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Postmortems on Dering Harbor vote controversies

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Dering Harbor Mayor Tim Hogue.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Dering Harbor Mayor Tim Hogue.

Village Hall was crowded Saturday, June 21 with about 20 residents there to listen and respond to a discussion on the results of the village election held last week, which ended in dead heats for mayor and one trustee slot.

Also in the mix were the prospects for future run-off elections for the seats, and the on-going controversy sparked by the rejection of Deybis Rodriquez’ ballot in the 2013 election.

Mayor Tim Hogue reviewed the outcome of the recent election, which resulted in him and write-in candidate Patrick Parcells splitting votes right down the middle, and the same result occurring in the balloting for trustee Mary Walker and write-in candidate Rob Ferris.

Brandon Rose, appointed earlier in the year to fill a vacancy, retained his seat.

Fifty-one votes were cast with one absentee ballot disqualified because it did not have the required signature on the envelope.

In discussing the recent election process, audience members brought up challenges made on election day — two calling into question the residency in the village of Bridg and P.A.T. Hunt, submitted by Mr. Parcells. The Hunts responded on site by affidavit to the legitimacy of their address.

Another election consideration had to do with the unsigned absentee ballot, which was subsequently disallowed in accordance with election law.

Run-off election
The ballots have been sent to the Suffolk County Board of Elections to be certified. And if the count holds, a run-off election will be held for the position of mayor and one trustee seat. Until the village hears from the Board of Elections, the timing of the election is uncertain, but the mayor anticipated it would be prior to the board’s reorganization meeting scheduled for July 19, at which time the new board officially takes office.

Mr. Hogue assured residents that notice of the election would be “very publicly distributed” and would be conducted with poll watchers and an inspector on site. In answer to a question, he noted that absentee ballots are counted in a run-off, but write-in votes for other candidates would not be.

Another question had to do with voter registration lists. Mr. Hogue said that the Board of Elections would be providing the village clerk with the most recent list at the time of the election.

The Rodriguez controversy
The mayor announced he had appointed trustee Brandon Rose, who has served on the board for less than a year and is assured a seat on the new board, to serve as a “new pair of eyes” in investigating the rejection of Ms. Rodriguez’ ballot in 2013. Before calling on Mr. Rose for his report, the mayor urged the audience to be respectful of all opinions expressed and to engage in “civil discourse.”

For the most part, that’s what happened.

Mr. Rose said he wasn’t an expert in election law but the fact that Ms. Rodriquez’ ballot had not been counted in 2013 had obviously led to considerable discussion and comment about appropriate procedures. He had done his own research into the law and those procedures and had interviewed Ms. Rodriguez, Village Clerk Laura Hildreth and poll inspector Joseph Cunningham — all of whom were present in Village Hall on election day in 2013.

In summary, Mr. Rose felt the village clerk and inspector had acted within their authority when they questioned Ms. Rodriguez’ vote on the grounds of her residency in 2013, based on the knowledge that her 2012 absentee ballot had been challenged and was sustained at the time because she was registered to vote in two different states and had tried to vote in both Dering Harbor and Bergen County, New Jersey.

At the time of the 2013 election in the village, she was still on the Bergen County, New Jersey voting books.

In a subsequent follow-up email, answering questions from the Reporter, Mr. Rose wrote, “Based on this information, no one should be surprised Ms. Rodriguez was challenged in June 2013 when she came to vote.”

But it’s not necessary, when a voter changes locations, that she inform local election officials, and Cathy Schatzger, a spokeswoman for the Suffolk County Board of Elections, has said that Ms. Rodriguez is a registered voter in Dering Harbor and her name was never flagged for any violations.

Mr. Rose said there is a difference of opinion among the three individuals involved — the clerk, inspector and Ms. Rodriguez — about whether the procedure for challenging her right to vote was administered properly. “Regardless, as a village we absolutely have a responsibility to administer elections ethically,” he said, “and in full accordance with the law and related procedures … Nothing less than this is acceptable.”

He explained that while the village clerk has a responsibility not only to protect the rights of the individual voter, she has a larger responsibility to protect the integrity of the election for the community as a whole.
Mr. Rose’s report was received with numerous comments from the audience including the question: If and when Ms. Rodriguez appealed the process.

She said she did, indicating the “the process wasn’t done properly” and that she had subsequently written to the Board of Elections about the situation. There appeared to be a difference of  opinion about whether Ms. Rodrigues had followed an appeal process following the 2013 election.

There were some questions from the audience about both the 2013 and 2014 elections that were, for the most part, unanswered: Why weren’t the Hunts’ right to vote being investigated, one audience member asked. Why single out Ms. Rodriquez’s residency? Why not question all village residents? Is an affidavit adequate evidence of residency, even with the threat of perjury? Can a decision on an unsigned absentee ballot be appealed?

At one point, it was mentioned that the Board of Elections and the New York Conference of Mayors are available as consultants about election matters. As a clarification, Village Attorney Joe Prokop said, without commenting on whether consultation took place in the 2013 case or not, that NYCON will help with questions at the election site; the county board does not.

The mayor also commented that the voting lists themselves are not without fault and gave as an example an individual on the village’s list at one time who owned property but didn’t have a residence.

One villager commented that whether proper procedures were in place or not in 2013, “this discussion could go on forever. The village is up to speed now,” he said. And Mr. Rose commented, “It is important to note that the village clerk and inspector handled voter challenges during the 2014 village election without any procedural issues and that Ms. Rodriguez voted unchallenged in the 2014 village elections …”

The mayor thanked the audience for “a healthy discussion” and was about to adjourn the meeting when Rob Ferris asked that a letter be read into the record on behalf of Helge Skibeli and Clora Kelly. The mayor did so.

The letter said, in part, “How can we have faith in the integrity of our elections, if votes are illegally discounted without explanation? … We call for the state to investigate.”