Judge: ‘This was an attempt to stuff the ballot box;’ developer walks away from voting battle
Frank Gerardi, the presumptive mayor-elect of the Village of Bloomingburg, and William Herrmann, the recently elected supervisor of the Town of Mamakating, shake hands after a victory in the courtroom.
Judge Stephan Schick had expected lengthy testimony and legal arguments; he told the lawyers he would be available for the entirety of the four days leading up to the swearing in of newly elected officials in the Village of Bloomingburg.
But in a surprise move the lawyer for developer Shalom Lamm told the court that his client had decided to withdraw from the legal battle, and would no longer contest the determination of the Sullivan County Board of Elections that more than 100 of the people who had cast affidavit ballots, including Lamm, were not eligible to vote.
That took place at the Sullivan County Courthouse on April 2. Schick was clearly annoyed at the turn of events, because two days earlier, Lamm’s lawyer, John Ciampoli, had sought permission for Lamm to become an intervener in the trial. Schick agreed to allow it because Schick said if his own vote were challenged he would want the ability to intervene.
But on the day of the hearing, when Schick was to hear evidence about whether the Sullivan County Board of Elections was correct in their determination that so many people who voted had no right to do so, Lamm, who had been served a subpoena, decided not to show up. Before taking leave of the courtroom, Ciampoli noted that the penalty for not responding to a subpoena was a $50 fine, and if it came to that, Lamm would pay the fine.
Lamm, however, was not alone. More than 90 of the challenged voters had also been served subpoenas and not one of them showed up in court.
Schick commented at some length about that. He said that voting is one of the central acts of a democracy, and when a person, or more than 100 people in this case, claim that their right to vote has been violated, as was the case in this matter, it is a very serious charge. He said it is “very telling” that none of the challenged voters appeared to defend their right to vote.
Schick noted that he heard a voter challenge case in November, and in that case many of the voters were anxious to take the stand and explain how, in their view, their right to vote had been violated.
The hearing continued without Lamm’s lawyer, and the commissioners from the BOE testified about how they arrived at their determination. Commissioner Anne Prusinski testified that they spent most of the day on March 18 at the Bloomingburg polling place to observe the voting.
She said there were two people at the polling place who were serving as Yiddish interpreters. She said she saw four people approach them and in English ask questions such as “What street do I live on? What county do I live in? How do you spell Bloomingburg?”
Donna Lasher, the attorney for the now likely out-going mayor of the village, Mark Berentsen, argued that there was a procedural “defect” in the way the BOE handled the affidavit votes. But assistant county attorney Tom Cawley argued that the actions of BOE staff had been exemplary, and their actions had assured a fair and honest outcome in the vote.
Judge Schick agreed. He was sharp in his criticism of Lamm. He said, “This was an attempt to stuff the ballot box.”
It’s not clear if Lasher will appeal Schick’s decision to uphold the BOE’s determination of the matter, and various observers were split on whether that was likely to happen. But if she does not, Frank Gerardi and the other candidates who ran on the Rural Heritage party line will be sworn in, and the current mayor and others who ran on the Bloomingburg Strong line will not be in office.
The Rural Heritage candidates are opposed to Lamm’s 396-unit townhouse development, The Villages at Chestnut Ridge, and the Bloomingburg Strong candidates support it.
Statement from Lamm
"I have made a tough decision and instructed my attorneys to not pursue any litigation standing in the way of certifying the election. This is not a reflection of the merits of the case but a decision that moving forward is not in the long-term interests in the Village of Bloomingburg where I continue to reside and where I hope to continue to be a positive force for change.
"I congratulate the presumptive new village officials, and look forward to working with them. An olive branch is now extended even to those who have said and written regrettable things. My memory for hatred is short, and my ability to embrace former adversaries is powerful. Let’s all work together.”
A sample of the challenges filed against the suspect voters
SULLIVAN COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS:
STATE OF NEW YORK ) ss.: AFFIDAVIT
COUNTY OF SULLIVAN )
I, Anita Hoppe, am over the age of 18 and am a duly registered voter of the Town of Mamakating, County of Sullivan, State of New York, residing at 49 Lewis Lane Bloomingburg, New York 12721. I am an IT Security Specialist employed by IBM and work at an office located at 300 Long Meadow Road Sterling Forest, New York 10979 and also at a home office located at 49 Lewis Lane, Bloomingburg, New York 12721. I do hereby file this affidavit as required pursuant to Section 5-220 of the New York State Election Law. I hereby swear to the following:
I have reason to believe that the registration of DAVID JUNGREIS, a person who registered to vote with the Sullivan County Board of Elections on FEBRUARY 18, 2014, with a registration number of 1047118, is invalid for the following reasons:
1. That he/she is not a resident for voting purposes in the Village of Bloomingburg, Town of Mamakating, County of Sullivan.
2. That he/she does not reside in the Village of Bloomingburg, Town of Mamakating, County of Sullivan County.
3. That the address that he/she lists 30 North St Bloomingburg NY 12721 on the registration form on file with the Sullivan County Board of Elections is not his/her residence for voting purposes for the following reasons:
a. The address listed on his/her registration form does not exist.
b. He/she has no personal property or affects at the address and no past or continuing attachment to the property or to the Village of Bloomingburg.
c. Observation and investigation of the building address reveals it is currently under construction and/or uninhabitable.
d. Upon information and belief the registrant’s child/children have no connection to the Pine Bush school district.
e. Upon information and belief the registrant’s business pursuits, employment, and income sources are not within this community, and the registrant’s alleged Bloomingburg address is not listed for their government benefits or income tax returns.
f. Upon information and belief the registrant neither owns the apartment claimed, nor rents it. To the extent that he/she produces a document purporting to be a lease, that document is suspect.
g. The address listed by the registrant is not his/her fixed, permanent, and principal home and the registrant does not have legitimate, significant, and continuing ties to the Village of Bloomingburg, County of Sullivan. In view of all of the attendant circumstances, the address claimed by the registrant is being asserted solely for the purpose of circumventing residency requirements under the New York State Election Law.
4. That the address listed by the registrant is a sham and is part of a massive voter registration scheme designed to manipulate an election, as evidenced by the following:
a. Like all of the other registrations I am challenging, his/her registration was filed with the Sullivan County Board of Elections and, with the exception of only a handful of registrations, was hand delivered in large batches by two or three couriers to the Board of Elections. The large majority were filed between February 18, 2014 and March 7, 2014 prior to a March 18, 2014 election.
b. Irregularities exist on this and nearly all of the registration forms I am challenging, ranging from missing information, questionable signatures, misspelled addresses, signatures dated incorrectly, and addresses that do not exist.
c. A review of the printed writing on many of the registration forms suggests that more than one person filled out individual forms. Specifically, in nearly all of the registration forms, line 3 (the line for “your name”) and line 8 (the line for “address where you live”) are printed in a different hand, suggesting an assembly line effort.
d. Many of the signatures on the registrations are highly suspect in that printed names are spelled differently than signatures, multiple signatures appear to be signed in the same hand, and several signatures do not indicate a first name. Again, this all suggests a calculated, but sloppy, assembly line effort to create sham addresses.
e. I am challenging registrations from 23 building locations, 21 of which are owned by LLCs - each of these LLCs list the business office of the developer Shalom Lamm as their address.
f. Of these 21 building addresses, 14 are multi-unit buildings. Yet, many of the registrants at these 14 addresses have not listed an apartment or unit number on their registration form, providing further reason to believe that they do not actually have an apartment or unit in the building.
g. He/She claims an address for voting purposes one week prior to the actual sale of the building to the LLC with the address of the business office of developer Shalom Lamm.
h. On February 14, 2014, Mr. Lamm sued the Sullivan County Board of Elections, seeking to remove four Village of Bloomingburg candidates from the ballot for the upcoming March 18, 2014 village elections. Since then, a flood of registrations with a connection to Mr. Lam have poured in, right up until the deadline for registering, including registrations that have been filed more than once.
i. To the extent that any of these registrants have been present in the Village of Bloomingburg, such presence has been very recent and has been limited to weekends, primarily from Friday evening just before sundown until Saturday evening just after sundown, but no later than Sunday mid-morning.
5. Based on the circumstances set forth herein, and my observation of this and all of the other registrations, I have reason to believe that this registration was not signed by the person listed as the registrant. In this particular case, the spelling of the registrant's signature does not match at all the spelling of the printed name provided on the form.
6. The facts set forth herein are based on my personal knowledge, after a review of the information and data provided by the Sullivan County Board of Elections, on materials provided by community members (see affidavits, deeds, photographs, and other attachments), my investigation, observations of the registration form submitted by registrant, and observations of the buildings located in the Village of Bloomingburg where the registrant purports to reside.
7. I have read the foregoing affidavit and know the contents thereof. The contents are true to my knowledge except to those matters stated to be alleged upon information and belief, and as to those matters I believe them to be true.
Dated: March , 2014 _______________________
Anita M. Hoppe
I do solemnly swear that the forgoing statement made by me on March ______, 2014 is a truthful disclosure of the reasons for my belief that the registered voter therein named is not qualified to continue to be registered in the election district in which he/she is now registered.
Dated: March , 2014 _________________________
Anita M. Hoppe