Ward System Case—Where We Are Now
November 18, 2016, Michael Parietti & Robert Romanowski. Most of you know the story. After years of trying to prevent a vote on whether we should have a Ward System, the Town of Ramapo was ordered to hold a referendum on that question on September 30, 2014. On the ballot was whether the town should establish a ward system and divide the town into six separate districts (wards), each with its own representative on the Town Board.
Terrified by the transparency and accountability that a ward system of government might bring to Ramapo, town officials concocted a scheme to influence the outcome of the referendum, promoting disinformation and an atmosphere of deliberately induced disorganization. This was done in the hopes of assuring a NO vote, but also to leave open an avenue to challenge a YES vote based on the chaos and confusion they themselves created.
On the day of the referendum we went to court seeking an order to impound the ballot so the canvass (count) could be conducted in an orderly manner, not the Cirque de St. Lawrence free for all still reigning at the polls. Supreme Court Judge Margaret Garvey granted our request and ordered the Rockland County Sheriff to take custody of all ballots at the end of voting hours. Then, acting on her own initiative, Judge Garvey went a step further, voiding the entire referendum and ordering a revote. The Town appealed her decision and the Appellate Division Second Department ruled that the votes had to be counted before the result could be challenged.
A canvass of the ballots finally took place in August of 2015. The tally of the machine and absentee ballots was a YES vote on both propositions (to have a ward system and to have 6 ward representatives). However, when nearly 2,300 votes from unregistered voters were added to the mix the outcome was reversed to a NO vote on both questions.
A challenge was filed in State Supreme Court to the referendum result in September of 2015. Judge Garvey denied the challenge claiming she did not have jurisdiction to do anything more than review objections filed against specific ballots. We appealed her decision and submitted our papers in April of this year. The town has replied, and the case is now fully briefed. We are currently awaiting a date for oral argument at the Appellate Division Second Department, which should occur in the next few weeks.
The Town argues that the irregularities in question did not impact the outcome of the referendum, and even if they did, the court does not have the jurisdiction to set aside the vote. We argue that case law and statute clearly empower the court to overturn the vote and that skillfully manipulated irregularities orchestrated by the town changed the outcome of the special election and are, by themselves, sufficient grounds to void the referendum. It is evident to us that St. Lawrence and his lieutenants wove a web of deception and deceit designed to influence the outcome of the referendum and discredit the integrity of the process. I will not elaborate further, but, as you might imagine, the devil is in the details which will be seen if you have the patience or interest to read the legal papers of the case.
We have asked the Appellate Court to order a revote on the town biennial election in November 2017. This will ensure that the referendum will be administered under the auspices of the Rockland County Board of Elections rather than the Town of Ramapo.
We thank everyone for your continued support and interest in the case. We will let you know when the oral arguments will be presented at the Appellate Division.