A referendum held almost a year ago, widely seen as aimed at decreasing Orthodox influence in Ramapo Township, was defeated by a close margin, according to results released on Thursday after lengthy court battles.
Town Clerk Christopher Sampson announced that voters narrowly defeated — by half a percentage point — the two proposals in the Sept. 30, 2014, election, forced on the township after years of petitions by two Preserve Ramapo activists.
Michael Parietti and Robert Romanowski, the duo who asked for the election, had wanted to add two legislators to the current four-member local board, and sought to have them elected via districts known as the “ward” system, rather than the current structure of the entire district voting for the whole legislative body.
Orthodox groups, including Agudath Israel of America, had warned last year that if the measure went through it could weaken the power of the Orthodox community.
The referendum featured extremely high turnout by both sides. But Parietti and Romanowski complained to the court that they were not told until the day before the election that voters needed to be registered a week in advance in order to cast an absentee ballot.
Hours after the results were in, Judge Margaret Garvey of the Rockland County Supreme Court ordered all the ballots impounded. Days later, she called for a new election, with Rockland County officials overseeing the process.
Orthodox groups appealed the decision — specifically Garvey’s order not to release the election’s results. In June, a state appeals panel ruled that she did not have the authority to invalidate the election and ordered the results to be counted and released.
It turns out that Ramapo residents who were not registered to vote — but did so by filing an on-site affidavit — tipped the balance in favor of the nos.
Some 15,648 voted down the proposal to add two town board members, while 14,644 voted yes. That’s a difference of 104 votes. If only registered voters would have cast ballots, the measure would have been approved by a 13,858 to 13,581 margin.
The ward system went down to defeat narrowly, 15,581 to 14,687. That’s a difference of 94 votes. Without the unregistered voters it would have been approved by 13,891 to 13,526.
Unregistered voters are usually barred from voting; they were allowed to take part this time since it was a referendum. Orthodox activists worry that in county elections scheduled for two weeks, they will be at a disadvantage. Among those races, Rockland County Majority Leader Aron Wieder, a Democrat, faces a fierce reelection fight.
The Ramapo town board is headed by Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, and has two Orthodox members, Yitzchok Ullman and Daniel Friedman. The two others are Brendel Logan and Patrick Withers.
Preserve Ramapo has said they will appeal.