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Voters' registration at stake in suit

Should people with two or more homes in New York state be allowed to vote from their summer homes?

A case involving eight seasonal Bovina residents, pending before state Supreme Court Judge Kevin M. Dowd of Norwich, may answer the question. The judge heard brief arguments Friday in the lawsuit filed July 31 and said he would issue a written statement later.

The eight people _ Hall Willkie, Juliet Lauricella, Thomas Lauricella, David Hendricks, Julianne Bond-Shapiro, David Spry, Maria Spry and Stephen Robbins _ were registered to vote in Bovina, although they own homes elsewhere.

Earlier this year, according to their attorneys, Peter Henner of Clarksville and Bruce Kraus of Manhattan, the eight were purged from the voting rolls by the Delaware County Board of Elections.

Now they’re suing the elections board to be re-enrolled with Bovina as their voting address.

Delaware County Attorney Richard Spinney said in court Friday that after a complaint was made to the local BOE that these people should not be voting in Bovina, the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department investigated.

The Sheriff’s Department filed a report with the BOE, indicating that the eight did not have their primary homes in Bovina, Spinney said. When the eight did not provide income-tax forms that showed that Bovina was their primary residence, they were removed from the rolls.

Outside the courtroom, Spinney said the action was related to controversy over wind turbines that had been proposed for the area.

“These people don’t really live in Bovina, but they have a lot of money and a New York City lawyer,’’ he said.

Paperwork submitted to the court on behalf of the eight people states, “In early 2007, a group of Bovina voters, including these eight, took sides in a debate over a local zoning policy. A Bovina citizen on the losing side of this issue then filed affidavits seeking to disenfranchise a number of his political opponents. The petitioners here were perceived as vulnerable to challenge because, in addition to their homes in Bovina, they each have another residence, as well.’’

Spinney argued that the BOE was within its rights under state law to remove the eight voters.

“Election law states what factors are to be considered,’’ he said. “It’s akin to a county judge ruling on a pistol permit,’’ he said. “If you have six different addresses, you have no right to choose any of the six (as your legal address).

Kraus said the eight plaintiffs all consider Bovina their home, although they have other homes. Under state law, they have a “perfect right to choose either one of their homes as their residence for voting purposes,’’ he said.

Court papers submitted on behalf of the plaintiffs, including Willkie, nephew of former presidential candidate Wendell Willkie, show that many of their driver’s licenses list a Bovina address.

State elections law states that a voting address is a fixed, permanent address to which one always intends to return, Kraus said. Although these eight people may have business interests elsewhere, they do intend to return to Bovina and consider it home, he said.

Dowd said he was inclined to rule for the plaintiffs but would do so in writing because the ruling might have far-reaching consequences.

“What I’m thinking is they should be allowed to vote in Bovina,’’ the judge said.

Outside the courtroom, Willkie, Kraus and Henner said they were pleased with Friday’s hearing and hoped Dowd would issue a decision before the Sept. 18 primary election.

By Tom Grace
Cooperstown News Bureau

The Daily Star

8 September 2007