Election Records Subpoenaed in Saltaire
By David Crohn

Ever since the federal government passed sweeping election reform laws in the wake of the 2000 presidential election fiasco, New York state has been notoriously slow to comply.

A leading candidate for the state poster child of electoral dysfunction is the Village of Saltaire, packed with residents who call it their second home. The problem is, for some it’s also a second place to vote.

As The New York Times reported, a Suffolk County grand jury subpoenaed election records for Saltaire on June 9.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 required states to establish centralized voter registration rolls, in large part to prevent the legal dispute that Saltaire found itself in recently, when resident Noel Feustel sued to have all of the village officials taken off the ballot. He contended, among other things, that about 150 voters who knew they were registered elsewhere signed up to vote in Saltaire. He said they conspired with village candidates to defraud the system.

The courts denied his claim. Meanwhile officials have said a centralized voter registration list won’t be ready until next year at the earliest. Insiders say Feustel’s lawsuit may have been what triggered the Suffolk County District Attorney’s investigation into the community’s voting records.

Suffolk County prosecutors do not comment on ongoing investigations, but one village official deny that Saltaire is being targeted specifically, insisting that it’s just the local sign of a countywide—or even statewide—crackdown.

Feustel said his lawsuit, which resulted in one trustee being forced to run as a write-in candidate, was part of an effort to expose what he calls rampant voter fraud in Saltaire. Feustel says that in his investigations, done with the help of his lawyer, Barry Kaman, he has found rampant voter fraud in Saltaire. He would not provide copies of his findings to The Fire Island News.

At the heart of the confusion—or fraud, depending on whom you talk to—are the village’s personal registration days, which allow residents to come to the village hall and sign up to vote in elections just a few weeks beforehand. Without a centralized, statewide list of who is registered to vote and where, critics call it an easy way to vote in one place while already actively registered some place else.

“It’s a phantom list,” Feustel has said, while choosing not to comment for this article. He has said in previous interviews that his crusade against the village is apolitical, and that he just wants to see the system reformed. Saltaire remains one of very few communities in the state that still allow personal registration.

“The Feustels are claiming this because they’ve found this on old lists from other counties. The people are not voting in two places. It’s the fault of the counties who don’t expunge their records,” said Hugh O’Brien, a longtime trustee, in defense of his villagers. “Two of the people they went after who may be registered in other places haven’t lived there for years.”

O’Brien acknowledges that old records need to be expunged, but he sees a bureaucratic mix up—not a large-scale conspiracy.

“The allegations have no merit,” he said.

State law requires individuals to reside in one place for at least 30 days before registering to vote there. When you sign up, you are signing an affidavit stating that you haven’t voted any place else in that past month—it’s technically legal to be registered in two places at once, as long as you don’t actually vote in the same election in those two places. Old records should be expunged, but they are usually not.

The law, as it relates to voting, is more reactive than proactive: you can face criminal charges for voting twice, but there’s nothing in place to stop you. It amounts to a kind of honor system.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Fire Island, though part of Suffolk County, is apparently too far flung for the county board of elections to step in. Ellen Martin, a Board of Elections spokeswoman, could not be reached to comment for this article. But in a previous interview with The Fire Island News, she said of Saltaire, “It’s out of our jurisdiction there.