Sullivan County Gets 5-Year Bloomingburg Election Monitor

SULLIVAN COUNTY, N.Y. -

An upstate village accused of illegally rejecting voter registration forms from Jewish residents will be getting a monitor to review challenges after a federal judge approved a settlement on Tuesday.

The Sullivan County Board of Elections and the Orthodox plaintiffs of a lawsuit now have until March 22 to agree on who will monitor the village of Bloomingburg’s voter registration challenges for the next five years.

Judge Katherine Forrest also ordered the county to provide Yiddish-language election material, pay $550,000 in legal fees and $25,000 to the plaintiffs in compensation, and avoid disparaging the Orthodox community’s motives.

“The parties agree that none of them shall disparage any of the others in connection with the matters at issue or resolved in connection with this litigation,” the agreement states.

A group of more than a dozen Orthodox registered voters sued the board last year, saying it targeted them by trying to cancel more than 150 residents’ registrations. The board had questioned whether the voters were actually living there.

The lawsuit accused Board of Elections member Ann Prusinski of having close ties to the Rural Community Coalition, a group that is opposed to Jews moving into the area. She, along with the late Rodney Gaebel, was accused of getting residents to challenge the election petitions of an Orthodox candidate in a September 2014 special election.

The two also got the Board of Elections to set aside 69 votes in the 2014 election. Two months later, the board annulled 63 of the votes. The lawsuit also charges that in 2015, 156 voter registration forms were cancelled.

Bloomingburg has 420 residents and its Jewish population has increased in recent years as residents of densely populated Kiryas Joel in nearby Orange County move there.

Steve Engel, a village attorney, says the monitor should benefit both the county and voters.

“The proposed consent decree will ensure that all citizens in Sullivan County have the equal right to have their vote counted,” Engel said. “This is a victory not only for Bloomingburg’s Hasidic Jewish community, but citizens of every faith.”

Meanwhile, a related lawsuit continues over permits to build a large housing development, a yeshivah and a mikveh. Jewish residents allege the obstructions are a conspiracy to stop them from moving into Bloomingburg and the Town of Mamakating.