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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Brooklyn Hasidim face accusations of voter fraud

NEW YORK — Reports of voter fraud in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community have surfaced since Tuesday’s Democratic primary election for mayor. Some insiders say the sham has been going on for years.

On election day, the news site Gothamist reported on what appeared to be “an orchestrated pattern of voter fraud” in the largely Hasidic precinct of South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. According to workers at one polling station, IS-71, dozens of fraudulent voting attempts were made by underage teenagers, voters using other persons’ names, and individuals trying to vote twice under different names.

“They’re signing signatures, but the ID they show doesn’t match the signature on the forms,” polling worker Antoinette Reaves told Gothamist.

A policeman guarding the site said that in the two hours he was stationed there, he witnessed four men attempting to vote under a false name.

Similar issues arose last year during the 2012 Democratic primaries, according to a complaint submitted by the New Kings Democrats, a grassroots organization for political transparency.

Along with recording numerous attempts of underage voting, double voting, and voting under false names, the complaint cited constant illegal interference by Hasidic bystanders, who would often approach voters in booths, offering to help them fill out their ballots.

“At every given moment, there were dozens of non-voters milling about, coming in and out of the different exits, talking to voters,” Matt Cowherd, founder of New Kings Democrats and a poll watcher in 2012, told The Times of Israel.

Cowherd is certain the crowding was a pre-planned strategy, meant to overwhelm staffers.

“It was chaos… things were constantly getting out of control,” he said. At a certain point, a team of police officers and NYC Board of Elections officials were called to the site, and voting was halted until order could be restored.

The New Kings Democrats sent their complaint to the Board of Elections’ Department of Investigations, and to the Brooklyn District Attorney. According to Cowherd, the DA followed up with an initial investigation, but otherwise the complaint was ignored.

“It’s unbelievable that this is allowed to continue out in the open, year after year,” said Cowherd.

The IS-71 polling station, serving eight election districts and over 3,200 voters, is one of the busiest voting sites in Brooklyn. It is also a key battle ground for two feuding factions of the Satmar Hasids — the Zalis and the Ahronim.

“They’re fighting for leadership,” reporter Jacob Kornbluh told The Times of Israel. The two factions always support opposing democratic candidates. By gaining a majority in a pivotal district, the faction can improve its dealing power with future politicians. They keep a meticulous registration of their own base, and can supply candidates with the exact number of their votes, be they legitimate or not.

“Whoever gets the more votes, they will be the kingmaker. They will have all the power,” Kornbluh explains.

Kornbluh was at the IS-71 polling site Tuesday, covering the elections for Yeshiva World News. Based on testimonies he gathered, voter fraud has been rampant among the Satmar Hasids for years.

“I spoke to many people, and they all admitted to me that both sides are sending in underage teenagers to vote under different names. They said it’s a ritual, they do it every election.” Both factions have an agreement “not to tell on each other,” according to Kornbluh.

In addition to deploying easily-mobilized underage voters from yeshiva schools, he said the two factions also have their own polling workers stationed in Williamsburg sites. Kornbluh said this allows them to manage the fraud from within.

“They know who voted already, who didn’t vote, and they have a count of what’s going on… So they don’t have to sneak in. They know exactly who to send.”

One 15-year-old voter told Kornbluh he knew of 35 other boys his age voting. The teenager, who voted for Bill Thompson, said he himself had no political inclination, but that “we are doing this for the rabbi, to win.” Thompson finished second in the primary behind Bill de Blasio.

A spokesman for the Ahronim Satmar of Williamsburg and Boro Park denied any voter fraud allegations.

“The accusations are false, baseless, and motivated by cultural insensitivity and ill will,” said Michael Tobman. “Nothing like what’s been alleged actually happened. Every valid vote is being counted, and the integrity of the Brooklyn vote, in every community, is beyond reproach.”

The spokesman for the Zalis was unavailable for comment at the time of publishing.

Through Kornbluh’s blow-by-bow tweets on Tuesday, Sol Feuerwerker learned that his name may have been used by one of the underage voters. Feuerwerker is considering submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to see if that was in fact the case. If so, he says, Feuerwerker will pursue legal recourse against the perpetrator.

“It’s worse then stealing from me,” he said. “You’re taking my name, my right, and using it to further your own agenda… That’s horrible.”

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