Cochecton election may turn on second home owners; court to rule on challenged voters
The votes of second home-owners did not make much of an impact in most of the towns in western Sullivan County, and in fact the issue may have sparked a backlash among voters in some towns. But in the Town of Cochecton, the race for one of the council member’s seats may be decided by a court because of second home owners.
If the votes of a group of second home owners are counted, the victory will likely go to Dr. Paul Salzberg who ran as a Democrat, if the votes are not counted, the victory will likely go to Ed Grund, who ran on the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines.
As of now, Grund has 325 votes, while Salzberg has 310 votes. But 22 ballots have not been counted because they are under challenge by Cochecton Supervisor Gary Maas, and there is a belief among various people close to the situation that most if not all of those challenged votes will go to Salzburg.
The commissioners of the Sullivan County Board of Elections (BOE) split on the question of whether the votes should be counted; the Democratic Commissioner, Ann Prusinski, determined that they should be counted, and the Republican commissioner, Rodney Gaebel, determined that they should not be counted.
If the matter had ended there, the votes would have been counted, because with a split decision the challenged voters are not disqualified. But Maas, a Republican, is appealing the decision to the court, and there is reportedly a court date scheduled for November 27th.
In 2008, an appellate state court ruled that in some situations, second-home owners may register and vote in the town of their second home.
In 2009, the BOE commissioners determined that about 150 summer residents, who registered in the Town of Bethel, were not eligible to vote, at least in part because the local addresses they listed as homes were bungalows, or buildings that were not heated and had no wintertime plumbing, and therefore could not be lived in during the winter months. Another factor in that case was that the bungalows needed a temporary residence permit from the NY Department of Health (DOH) each year to operate.
The difference with the residences in the Lake Huntington Summer Community is that the residents own the cooperatives, and as members of a home-owners association they do not need to receive a permit from the DOH to use their summer homes.
In the 2008 decision, the five-judge panel ruled unanimously that the second-home owners who owned homes in Delaware County but had primary homes in New York City were able to vote in Delaware County because they had “significant and genuine contact,” with the community, and “their intent” was more important than where they spent the most time.
It’s not clear how the lower court will rule in this case, but whatever the ruling, it is likely to be precedent-setting.