October 30, 2013 —
When Gary Mass, supervisor of the Town of Cochecton, heard that there were about six residents of a seasonal community who registered to vote in Sullivan County, he said he was not really concerned. But when that number rose to 24, a figure that represents about 5% of the voting population, he decided he should take action.
Maas, in a phone interview, said that he challenged 24 voter registrations that listed the Lake Huntington Summer Community, which on its website sells itself as “a cooperative three-season community of 50 plus families.” Maas said he also challenged the registrations of about five others who stay in seasonal homes.
Maas filed a challenge on each individual voter with the Sullivan County Board of Elections (BOE), which will in turn send a questionnaire to the challenged voters and examine any evidence Maas presents before making a determination on the validity of the registrations.
If the BOE follows the ruling it issued in 2009, there is a chance the two election commissioners will determine that the registrations are not valid. In 2009, the BOE commissioners determined that about 150 summer residents, who registered in the Town of Bethel, were not eligible, 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.
But the difference with the Lake Huntington voters is that the latter own the co-ops in the community and therefore return to the same one each year, and use the co-ops in the same way that the owner of a winterized second home would use that home.
Another difference between the two cases is that the bungalows in Bethel must receive a temporary residency permit from the New York State Department of Health. The owners of the Huntington Lake co-ops, being members of a homeowners association, do not need to obtain such permits.
In 2008, an appellate court ruled that several second-home owners were entitled to register to vote at their homes in Bovina, even though they spent more time at their homes in New York City.
Their lawyer, Bruce Kraus, said at the time, “These voters care deeply about Bovina, and knew in their hearts they had the right to vote there, even when election officials disagreed. Despite official threats of criminal prosecution for trying to exercise their right to vote, they persevered.”
It’s not clear if the Lake Huntington voters will be judged to fall into that category, but Bruce Ferguson, the driving force behind the vote-where-it-counts effort in western Sullivan County, which this year has attracted a significant number of second-home owners, said he believes the registrants would qualify to be local voters.
That decision, at least initially, is up to the BOE commissioners. There are two such commissioners representing both major political parties. Commissioner Ann Prusinski was elected by the county Democratic Party, and commissioner Rodney Gaebel was elected by the county Republican Party.
When a voter’s registration is challenged, if one commissioner supports the challenge and the other commissioner does not, the challenge does not stand, and the challenger has the option to appeal the decision in court.
If both commissioners support the challenge, it is upheld, and the registered voter has the option of appeal.
Members of Lake Huntington Summer Community could not be reached for comment.