New York state investigates voter fraud among Satmar

New York City's Board of Elections is launching an investigation into perhaps the largest case of voter fraud in the history of New York state, involving Brooklyn Chassidim who have lived in the upstate Satmar village of Kiryas Joel.

"We will be notifying our legal counsel, who will turn it over to the Brooklyn District Attorney's office," said Naomi Bernstein, a spokeswoman for New York City's Board of Elections.

Bernstein was responding to questions by The Jewish Week about an alleged five-year scam that involved double voting.

The Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y., reported last week that an investigation the daily paper conducted uncovered 121 cases in which names and birthdates were used both in Kiryas Joel and Brooklyn to vote in the same election from 1989 to 1994. The elections ranged from local races to the presidential vote in 1992.

The names used — 84 in all — belonged to former students at a Kiryas Joel yeshiva, the United Talmudic Academy, who had since moved back to Brooklyn, the newspaper said. Officials of the United Talmudic Academy denied any involvement.

"It is…totally inconsistent with the mission and responsibility of the [school] to be associated or identified with any breach of public trust," said a statement issued by the yeshiva.

"It is clear that whoever has attempted to sully the name of United Talmudic Academy knew full well in which election district to double vote."

Some of the 84 accused of double voting denied the charge. "Since I have left there, I never voted there again," said Brooklyn resident Bernard Gancz, who said he was outraged that someone used his name to vote in Kiryas Joel during the Nov. 8, 1994 general election.

The state and local board of election said they never received complaints of voter fraud in Kiryas Joel, which is located about 45 miles north of New York City.

Many of the yeshiva's students come from the Satmar Chassidic neighborhoods in Williamsburg and Boro Park. Most students stay at the academy for about 18 months.

In Brooklyn, the names were allied with Democrats and in Kiryas Joel with Republicans — both the parties in power in their respective communities.

Rumors of rampant voter fraud dating back to 1986 sparked The Times Herald-Record probe, the newspaper said.

Officials at the state Board of Elections said the case appeared to be the largest voter fraud scheme ever reported. Voting twice is a felony in New York State.

The double voting involved both primaries and general elections, it was reported. It involved elections not only for president but also for Congress, for Orange County and state legislature, county executive and the town of Monroe board.

The names used in the double-voting scam were all registered in one election district in Kiryas Joel. But in Brooklyn, those same names were spread throughout the borough.

Officials of Kiryas Joel, one of the first incorporated religious villages in the United States, said they believed that local elections have been "fair, orderly and legally appropriate."

Village officials said they would cooperate with authorities in a probe of the charges.

Of the 84 names used, 27 were found to have double-voted in more than one election. One person double-voted in four elections, the newspaper found.

The votes did not decide any elections, the paper said.

To conduct its investigation, the newspaper reviewed 1,134 names and voting records of people currently and formerly enrolled in Monroe's District 14 who had an address for the United Talmudic Academy.

Shirley Jensen, commissioner of the Orange County Board of Elections, said she has expunged 67 double names from the county voting rolls. The paper said 17 matching names remain.

The people whose names were used apparently had registered to vote in Kiryas Joel when they attended yeshiva there.

Jensen told The Jewish Week that the fraud could have been perpetrated either in Kiryas Joel or in Brooklyn.

She said the issue turns on the apparent failure of voters to fill out a space on the voter registration card that asks them to disclose the last place they voted. That prevents election officials in Orange County and Brooklyn from alerting their counterparts that those voters should be removed from the rolls.

"It's like dead people voting in Chicago," Jensen said.