As I shared in my Democrats and Republicans Can Work Together blog, and my post about how I felt voting was meaningful this year, 2013 was a big year for Monroe’s local elections. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents came together and developed a new political party, the United Monroe party. They did grass roots campaigning, knocking on doors, conducting fund raisers and rallies, publishing position and platform mailings, and doing whatever else they could to raise awareness of the issues in the town.
A high level summary of issues
The brouhaha started when the current town board purchased a nearly million dollar movie theater with no public input or notice, and with varying explanations of how the building would be used. People who hadn’t been involved in the town meetings or the town decisions started getting involved. Lawsuits were filed and attorneys hired. The plot thickened, as other issues were uncovered, so attention turned to the actual board, how they operated, and what could be done to make the board more accountable and transparent. There were three board seats up for re-election, so the hope was to put new candidates from United Monroe into those seats.
An overview of Monroe’s villages
The voting issue was compounded by the way Monroe is structured. There are three villages that are part of the town: Kiryas Joel, Harriman, and Monroe. The Monroe town board is responsible to serve all of Monroe, which includes the town and the three villages. The village of Kiryas Joel is home to about 20 thousand Chasidic, a sect of Ultra Orthodox Judiasm. The voters of Kiryas Joel typically vote as a bloc, and in general, they will vote in whatever manner they are directed to by their leadership. A huge percentage of the village votes in elections, much higher than in the general populace.
The new United Monroe party believed, based upon past decisions and funding determinations, that the existing town board had been primarily focused on supporting just the village of Kiryas Joel, not on working for all three villages and the town. Therefore, they established themselves to attempt to replace three existing board members who were up for re-election as they wanted a board that supported all residents, not just one village. They worked hard to raise awareness to ensure that ALL parts of the town voted.
So what happened on voting day?
In the village of Kiryas Joel, voters were handed a copy of the ballot as they entered the voting location. The ballot they received had the candidates they were going to vote for highlighted so they would be able to easily find the right people on the actual ballot. Voting went well, with plenty of ballots and no major issues.
In the town and village of Monroe, voting did not go as smoothly. There was a much larger turnout of voters than in a typical local election year. Voting locations ran out of ballots and had to replace them with manual ballots, ballots written in Spanish, and ballots with too-small-to-read writing, until the emergency orders of real ballots arrived. In some voting locations, voters waited two hours to make their voting selections. Some voters left the polls, since they simply couldn’t wait. Late in the day, the voting was just not as efficient as it should have been.
So what happened after voting day?
On Election Day night, no one knew how many manual ballots were used, so the manual and absentee ballots needed to be counted. That count happened last week, and while the results have not been certified by the Board of Elections, they seem to be official enough to show up in our local paper.
The incumbents won another term but not by a landslide. For the hottest contest, that of town supervisor, the incumbent won with 52% of the vote, against United Monroe’s 46 percent (a small amount went to another incumbent running for the same seat). Based on this writer’s calculations and not on any official reports, about 62% of estimated registered voters came out to vote. But, those results are skewed towards the village of Kiryas Joel, where some folks are wondering if perhaps more than 100% of voters voted. Obviously there are still questions on the validity of the voting, but for now, the incumbents will be returning to their offices.
The United Monroe party has vowed to not give up the fight to return fairness and openness to the town of Monroe. There may be further investigations into the voting to ensure there wasn’t any fraud, so perhaps updates will be available at some time in the future.
But for now, I’ll bet there will be a lot more people attending town meetings to voice their opinions. I hope the board now realizes they simply must do what they were elected to do – support ALL residents of both the town and all three villages. United Monroe will be watching.