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Voter controversy affects local residents

WASHINGTON ­— The political atmosphere is buzzing over a controversy about whether 38 residents should have the right to vote in the Town of Washington.A month ago, a voter contacted Fran Knapp, the Dutchess County Commissioner of Elections for the Democratic Party, in regards to a letter the voter had received at their house from Peter Devers, a member of the Town of Washington Republican Party.“Voters must be enrolled to vote in the town in which they reside,” the letter stated. “It has come to our attention that many voters using the 131 Millbrook School Road address actually live in the Town of Stanford, not the Town of Washington.”Devers’s letter said some of the 38 residents appear in the Town of Stanford, while others appear in the Town of Washington when looking in the registration books for both towns. The letter stated not to be alarmed if the Dutchess County Sheriff Adrian “Butch” Anderson shows up to verify the voter’s address. “Devers is supposedly the one challenging all these voters who live on the campus,” Knapp said. “Apparently there are a lot of teachers that live there, and they have for years. This has been an ongoing issue. I was talking with some of my staff members about it and some are registered from different addresses, but apparently they all get mail at 131 Millbrook School Road.”The 38 voters who receive mail at that address received the same letter from Devers. Knapp said after receiving the call from the voter, she investigated the situation.“Erik Haight, the Republican Party Dutchess County Commissioner of Elections, had been working with Mr. Devers to challenge the registration of all these voters,” Knapp said. “That’s a section of the election law that’s rarely used. I have been here 10 years and I think I’ve seen two voter challenges. Mr. Haight now has done hundreds of them, some in Poughkeepsie, and now the town of Washington.”Knapp said a voter could be challenged if someone has personal knowledge about why they shouldn’t be registered to vote. One must write down the personal knowledge in an oath form, and the Board of Elections must witness the person taking the oath.Knapp said all of these oaths were witnessed by two Republicans, but she believes they should have been witnessed by representatives of both parties.“Mr. Haight proceeded to do an investigation with the sheriff at these homes and filed a report on every voter there. Then after he got these investigations back from the sheriff’s office, he sent another letter. This was done on his own. I have had no involvement with this, and this is totally against election law,” Knapp said. “The letter said we had deemed their registration invalid and if they don’t fill out this enclosed card telling why they should stay registered to vote, they will not be registered.”Knapp said she had received numerous phone calls from the residents of the 131 Millbrook School Road address who were confused about their voter status for the Town of Washington.“I think they are confused by it all. I just believe that he’s got an agenda to make it difficult for people to register,” Knapp said.According to Devers, they had sent the letter to the residents as a simple action that should have been addressed a long time ago.“Everybody seems to be thinking that the Republicans are targeting Democrats to chop their heads off and prevent them from voting, and it’s totally untrue,” Devers said. “I think that was started by Fran Knapp to try and embarrass Erik Haight.”Devers said he had been putting in requests to the Dutchess County Commissioner of Elections for a number of years regarding the voters, but nothing had been addressed. Devers said he contacted Haight to look into the situation in August and Haight agreed that it was a problem that needed to be corrected.Devers said he thought that all he had to do was inform the Board of Elections and then the incorrectly registered Town of Washington voters would be moved to the Town of Stanford. However, that is not the case. A challenge must be made under New York State law, which is what Devers and Haight did. An agent of the Board of Elections must verify the address; that agent is Sheriff Anderson.“We thought it was going to be a shock to local residents if they get a knock on the door and there is a deputy sheriff standing there wanting to ask them questions,” Devers said. “So we sent out the letter as a courtesy to notify people that they had done nothing wrong, that it was a screw up on the part of the Board of Elections in putting residential data that pushed them into the wrong town.”As a Board of Elections inspector, Devers said he has the authority to witness a challenge.Knapp said this is not the case and is now taking the issue to court.“There are several issues Mr. Haight has been active in unilaterally, and in election law there is a particular section that’s says all actions of the board will be by majority vote,” Knapp said. “This means one commissioner cannot act on their own, and he’s been doing all this on his own. So I filed what is called an article 78 about two weeks ago in Supreme Court asking Judge Wood to stop him from unilateral actions. We are waiting to hear the ruling from the judge.”Knapp said the judge could take up to two weeks to make a decision, but the judge had said that none of the voters would be purged.“The voters have told me the experience was very intimidating and they are very upset,” Knapp said. “Many people are turned off by the whole political process. I don’t want this to be why people aren’t going to vote, because now they think they’ll get to the polls and their name won’t be in the book. I am advising these residents to go to regular polls and vote. Mr. Devers is a poll worker and inspector, so that’s even a little more troubling. He’s going to be there sitting at the table when these voters walk in.”

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