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County settling Bloomingburg lawsuit; Challenged voters to stay on rolls

By Fritz Mayer
January 29, 2016

The Sullivan County Legislature voted seven to one in favor of authorizing the county attorney to enter into a consent decree with petitioners who filed a federal lawsuit against the Sullivan County Board of Elections (BOE).

The lawsuit had charged that the two BOE commissioners, the late Rodney Gaebel and Anne Prusinski, had discriminated against Hasidic voters by issuing a determination that they were not eligible to vote because they were not residents of the Village of Bloomingburg.

The vote came on January 28, and was opposed only by Catherine Owens, the legislator who represents Bloomingburg in District Four.

The terms of the consent decree are not clear, because at the meeting the outgoing county attorney, Sam Yasgur, and the legislators declined to discuss the details. But in the past couple of weeks, New York City publications have quoted the Bloomingburg Jewish Community Council saying the challenged voters would remain on the voting rolls.

If that’s true, this agreement marks the second time that a group of challenged voters claiming Bloomingburg residency have avoided explaining in open court why they should be allowed to vote in the village after an investigation by the county Sheriff’s Office and the BOE have determined that they are not eligible to vote there.

The first time was after the village election in 2014, when 90 Hasidic voters challenged the BOE determination. When the time came for them to appear in court, none decided to do so despite subpoenas, and instead opted to pay fines.

This time around, the voters opted to settle the case presumably before they would have been required to explain under oath why they should have been qualified to vote in the village.

It’s not clear what happens if someone challenges any of these voters before the next election, but for now, it appears that the status of the village remains unchanged. If the trial had run its course, and the court or jury had determined the challenged voters had no right to vote, it would have made it easier to move forward with dissolving the villages.

Developer Shalom Lamm, who built the controversial 396-unit development Villages at Chestnut Ridge in Bloomingburg, and those allied with him, want the village to remain, which will allow residents moving into the development enormous control over village government. The other faction wants the village to be dissolved, thereby diluting political power of the people living in the village.