A referendum rejecting a change to a ward system that sought to water down the rights of Orthodox voters in Ramapo Township was done correctly and no voter irregularities was discovered, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, turning down a request by two opponents of the community to declare the results invalid.
A four-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the state’s Supreme Court decision, which found that Michael Parietti and Robert Romanowski, two members of the Preserve Ramapo group, failed to present proof that any voter fraud affected the final results.
The Sept. 30, 2014, election had asked Ramapo voters to decide if the four legislators on the local governing board should be elected via districts known as the “ward” system, rather than the current system of the entire district voting for the whole legislative body.
Orthodox Jews are concentrated in two districts, allowing them to have representation from at least half of the board. A ward system would have weakened their voting sway, leading groups such as Agudath Israel of America to warn against the new structure.
After the ward method was defeated by the voters, the Preserve Ramapo members complained to a local judge 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. They claimed that “thousands” of voters were confused as a result.
While the town of Ramapo does not require preregistration, election law in Rockland County, in which Ramapo is situated, does demand it.
Hours after the election ended, Judge Margaret Garvey of the Rockland County Supreme Court ordered all the ballots impounded. She later ordered the referendum redone, this time overseen by the county and observed by poll watchers.
The Supreme Court, and now the federal appeals court, tossed the election do-over, which Parietti and Romanowski had wanted for this November.
“Contrary to the petitioners’ contentions,” the ruling stated, “the Supreme Court properly concluded that they failed to present proof that the alleged irregularities and/or misconduct by the Town in conducting the special election had any impact on the outcome. The petitioners’ remaining contentions are either not properly before this Court or without merit.”