Judge Stephan Schick handed down a split decision in the case of second home voters in the Town of Cochecton who voted in the November election.
The judge ruled from the bench on December 18 that the five voters, who own and, in the warmer months, live in the property on Fred White Road, are eligible to vote, but the 17 summer residents who own and, in the warmer months, live in the co-ops in Lake Huntington Summer Community are not eligible to vote.
One of the owners of the property on Fred White Road described that residence as a mansion with outbuildings that was owned jointly by three separate families. The resident, Tibor Feldman, said the families had owned the place for 42 years and had significant ties to the community in various ways.
One of the residents of a co-op in the Lake Huntington Summer Community, Peter Glick, said he had owned his co-op since 1981 and also had many ties to the community.
The judge was clearly concerned that some of the second-home voters might be “manipulating” the system.
During closing arguments given by Kirk Orseck, who was defending the right of the second homeowners to vote in the town, Schick interrupted. Referring to an appellate level decision, which said that in some cases second-home owners do have a right to decide which location to vote in, Schick said to Orseck, “You may have shown that all the voters are residents of the community, that they intend to return to the community, that they have significant ties to the community, but do they have the right to change where they vote?”
He continued, “Aren’t they possibly manipulating the system, that’s why I talk about the aura of sham. Isn’t that manipulation? I’ll call it an aura of manipulation. I’m concerned that this argument gives them more rights than other citizens have.”
Both men testified that they changed their voting place to Cochecton twice. Feldman testified that he first changed his voter registration to Cochecton when the former town supervisor Sal Indelicato was running for his first term as supervisor and asked Feldman to change his registration to help elect Indelicato to office. Feldman said that he subsequently switched his registration back to New York City until this most recent election when the gas issue and other issues began heating up.
Glick testified that he first changed his registration from Teaneck, NJ, in 2011, when gas drilling and fracking became issues. He said that he then switched his voting registration back to New Jersey after he and other members of the community felt the development was being unfairly targeted by the town code enforcement officer for violations because of their voting registration activities. He then returned his voter registration to Cochecton when he learned that there was a candidate running who would be more likely to share his view about gas drilling.
The River Reporter has not yet received Schick’s written decision, but it’s unclear at this point why the change of one man’s vote might be considered unacceptable manipulation and the other would not. (It’s also unclear if the judge’s charge of “manipulation” extended to other members of either community.)
Addressing the specific issue of targeting by the code enforcement officer, in cross examination attorney Marvin Newburg, representing town supervisor Gary Maas, who brought the legal action, asked if it wasn’t true that there were in fact violations with venting pipes from gas utilities at the development. Glick answered, “I don’t know.”
To be sure, there are several significant differences between the Fred White property and the Lake Huntington co-ops. The Fred White property is winterized, the co-ops are not. The Fred White owners own real property whereas the co-op owners own shares in a corporation and have long-term leases. It’s not yet clear which differences the judge thought were significant.
This story will be updated when The River Reporter receives the judge’s written decision.
Sources close to the challenged voters say it’s not yet clear if they will appeal. In the meantime, it seems that Republican Ed Grund will be sworn into the council seat on the town board that had been to this point undecided. If the 17 votes had been counted, the winner would likely have been Democrat Paul Salzberg.