Bethel voters face challenge
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Voters for Election Integrity (VEI) launched its official challenge yesterday of more than 150 voter registrations the group considers invalid.
After a press conference inside the Government Center in Monticello, David Sager who is a county legislator but said he was acting solely as a county resident headed into the Board of Elections Office to file the paperwork for a formal challenge.
The list of whom VEI was challenging could not be obtained at press time yesterday, but it only concerns registrations from the Town of Bethel made this year, including dozens of names with addresses listing Hasidic bungalow colonies.
“Voters for Election Integrity questions whether a person who stays in a bungalow colony from anywhere from one to nine weeks, only during the summer, can legally claim the bungalow as his/her residence for voting purposes,” Sager said during the press conference. “The [New York State] Election Law clearly says ‘no’.”
VEI was formed by Sager and others in response to the creation of the Community Council of Bethel, reportedly a group of mostly Hasidic summer residents who rallied to have a bigger say in town politics after Bethel officials and the United Talmudical Academy went to court over a just-built synagogue in White Lake.
While the Community Council has all but disappeared from public view, VEI has ramped up its efforts, including a fundraiser last week that attracted more than 100 supporters.
“While it is clear that the Town of Bethel’s struggle with the United Talmudical Academy over the legality and safety of its recently constructed community building and shul on Schultz Road is the cause for much public debate and ongoing concern,” said Sager, “the Schultz Road building will neither be the focus of [this] press conference, nor is it the object of the issue which VEI is pursuing.”
VEI is contending that state law clearly demands that citizens vote where they occupy a primary residence to which they “have legitimate, significant and continuing attachments.” The group faults the county Board of Elections for not doing enough to verify the residency of hundreds of new Bethel voters this summer, many of whom apparently registered due to the Community Council’s voter drive.
VEI, noted Sager, has the support of the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties in Bethel, plus the Town Board.
The group’s advisory committee includes Sager, County Treasurer Ira Cohen, Ferndale attorney Mike McGuire, and Federation for the Homeless Director (and Bethel resident) Steve White.
Its steering committee consists of Sullivan County Democratic Party Chair Steve Wilkinson, Bethel attorney Susan Harte, Monticello attorney Leo Glass and Smallwood’s Dr. Larysa Dyrszka.
However, it is Schenectady attorney Jim Walsh, an expert in election law, who is handling the legalities of challenging voter registrations. (Any resident can challenge a voter, but the volume and intricacy of VEI’s challenges require significantly more time and effort than average.)
“I want to make this very clear: our group does not seek to disenfranchise anyone,” Sager concluded. “If someone wants to vote, they can certainly vote where they reside.
“Under the circumstances here, however, we have a good-faith basis to believe that summertime bungalow colony dwellers do not satisfy the test of residency clearly set forth in the Election Law. Because we strongly believe that these new registrations are invalid, we are exercising our rights under the Election Law and will officially challenge these registrations.”