Judge Dismisses Yorktown Clerk's Lawsuit over Polling Locations

A town employee works at town hall Friday afternoon. Credits: Brian Marschhauser

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to note Quast's appeal of the decision.

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - A Supreme Court justice has dismissed Town Clerk Diana Quast's lawsuit against the Westchester County Board of Elections and the town of Yorktown, saying she does not have the standing to challenge the relocation of polling places.

Earlier this week, Quast sought to overturn the Board of Elections' decision to relocate four electoral districts with a collective 2,379 registered voters from Yorktown Town Hall to two other locations: the Yorktown Community and Cultural Center and French Hill School. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

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The location of the polling places remains unsettled, however, because  Quast has appealed Judge Larry J. Schwartz's ruling to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Second Judicial Department.

The Democratic and Republican commissioners for the Board of Elections both signed off on the relocation because of ongoing construction at town hall to create handicapped spaces as part of a settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit.

Quast, however, said relocation of the districts would “disenfranchise” not only the 2,379 registered voters at town hall, but the 3,580 voters at the two other locations. Quast, in the lawsuit, said the two other locations are not equipped to handle the increased volume. Additionally, the relocation places a hardship on people who walk to their polling place, she said.

Schwartz said Quast did not establish that she was an “aggrieved” party by the Board of Elections’ decision.

“She commenced this proceeding in her capacity as town clerk and not as a voter whose polling site has been changed by the [Board of Elections]...” Schwartz wrote.

Schwartz said the Board of Elections' may relocate a polling place if it is “unsuitable or unsafe.”

The day before a scheduled court appearance, on Tuesday, Oct. 24, the town board passed a resolution requesting that town hall no longer be used as a polling place—for this year and beyond. The resolution states that town hall is aging and cannot handle federal or local elections. The supervisor's office is on the third floor of town hall, which forces the supervisor to be absent on Election Day. Additionally, the town clerk has an office adjacent to the room where the polling machines are located, "creating an appearance of impropriety during election cycles," according to the resolution.

Though Reginald LaFayette, the Democratic commissioner, signed off on the relocation, he told Yorktown News on Thursday that he felt misled because there was no construction work happening at town hall. He said he was “disturbed” by what he calls “an attempt to disenfranchise” voters.

In a letter to Schwartz, Melissa Jean-Rotini, assistant county attorney, said the Board of Elections' position remained the same: If construction interfered with voter access to town hall, it will notify voters to alternate polling places. If no construction was scheduled for Election Day, then town hall is an "appropriate" polling place.

Earlier this month, flag poles, war monuments and cherry trees were removed from the site to make way for the handicapped parking spaces, but there has been little construction activity at town hall since.

Quast's attorney Richard Abbate, claimed that the construction was a "ruse" to displace voters. Earlier this week, the town parked two pieces of construction equipment at town hall to give the appearance of an active construction site.

"This is all part of a pretense or show that there is construction going on when there is not," Abbate said.

In her lawsuit, Quast said that Highway Superintendent Dave Paganelli and Planning Director John Tegeder told her that construction work was not scheduled to resume before Nov. 7.

Paganelli, in an affidavit, refuted this, saying town hall will be an “active construction site with heavy construction equipment, construction materials and supplies, and workers with hand tools. The driveway in front of town hall will be closed from time to time depending on the work being performed.”

On Friday afternoon, town employees were observed working at the site.

Town Attorney Michael J. McDermott said waiting until after Election Day to resume construction would have prohibited the town from finishing the project before winter, leaving town hall as a partially completed construction site until May 2018. Abbate said the town offered no proof to support this claim, saying construction could be carried out in November and December.

McDermott also argued that Yorktown Community and Cultural Center and French Hill School have long been used as polling places without incident. He said the community center is 0.2 miles from town hall and the school is 1.1 miles from town hall. Both places have adequate parking, McDermott said.

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