Divisions color elections in Western Sullivan
Since Hess Corporation and Newfield Appalachia cancelled their gas leases in Wayne County, PA this summer, much of the steam surrounding the gas drilling issue seems to have been lost. But the divisions it created in many communities, especially in western Sullivan County, are still very visible in municipal elections this year.
In June, board members in the Town of Delaware passed a resolution that many residents opposed because it invited drilling into the town. Earlier in the year, board members in the Town of Callicoon passed a new comprehensive plan that explicitly provides the development of gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing there.
These developments came after one of the leading experts on the Marcellus Shale formation, professor Terry Engelder, declared that there would never be successful gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale in Sullivan County. His declaration was unconvincing to both sides, but that may be changing.
Now, with another election upon us, the issue of gas drilling seems not to matter as much. Whether the elected members of various town boards are acting in accordance with the wishes of many members of their communities, and in some cases a clear majority, is very much an issue.
By every measure available, a clear and substantial majority of the people of the Town of Callicoon let it be known that they opposed a comprehensive plan that invited gas drilling, and the town board ignored their collective voice.
Perhaps as a response, the “vote where it counts” phenomenon was born. Members of the community, lead by the celebrity couple Debra Winger and Arliss Howard, invited weekend residents and the owners of second homes to register to vote in Sullivan County as opposed to registering in the other municipality in which they reside. The courts in New York State have ruled it is acceptable for people who reside in more than one home in the state to register to vote in a weekend home or vacation home.
This is not the first time that part-time county residents have been a factor in a local election. In 2009, some 150 people who spend the summer in the Town of Bethel registered to vote in that town. They did so because of issues raised with the construction of a shul and community center, which was ultimately found to be in violation of town code.
In that case, the registrations of about 90 of the voters were challenged by a group headed by then county legislator David Sager called “Voters for Election Integrity.” Election law says that for a registration to be valid, a registrant must have a “fixed, permanent and principal home to which he, wherever temporarily located, always intends to return,” and the registrant must also have a “legitimate, significant and continuing attachment,” to the area.
Many of the out-of-town voters registered using the addressed of bungalow colonies. Because the buildings are not habitable during the winter months, the Sullivan County Board of Elections ultimately ruled that 155 of those voters were not eligible to vote in the town.
The second home owners who have signed up in this election in the western part of Sullivan County have done so under different circumstances, which are similar to the circumstances under which the courts twice ruled that second home owners may vote in the municipalities of their second homes.
It will be interesting to see if the involvement of second home owners in this election is sufficient to impact any outcomes.