County Sheriff Investigates Voters Prior to Official Challenge

By Yvonne Marcotte, Epoch Times
August 30, 2015 Updated: September 2, 2015

GOSHEN—Residents on Galley Hill Road were questioned by an Orange County sheriff’s officer and another individual on Aug. 24, three days before an official challenge was filed.

The door to door investigation occurred on the Monday before an official voter registration challenge was made by the Deerpark Republican candidate for supervisor, incumbent Gary Spears. Sources told the Epoch Times that investigators went to homes and asked if the person who answered lived there and for how long.

There seems to be litmus test to be able to vote. That’s wrong.
— Michael Sussman, civil rights attorney

Spears filed a registration challenge of Democratic voters on Aug. 27. Susan Bahren, Orange County Board of Elections Commissioner-Democrat, confirmed that the Board of Elections did receive 30 voter registration challenges filed by Gary Spears for voters registered from 140 Galley Hill Road. 

On Sept. 2, Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler was asked whether he instructed the sheriff’s department to investigate a complaint made by Spears. Hoovler said he does not comment on what he called an ongoing investigation.

He noted that candidates will bring complaints directly to the district attorney’s office, but “generally, these type of things are supposed to go to the Board of Elections, then to the sheriff.”

Spears did not respond to requests for comment.

The Epoch Times filed a Freedom of Information request with the county Board of Elections and received the list of 30 names whose voter registration is being challenged. All individuals listed 140 Galley Hill Road as their address. As Epoch Times has previously reported, this is the address used by a student dormitory that is part of Fei Tian College.

Bahren does not know why the sheriff’s department was investigating and said, “Before today [Aug. 24], we had not received any challenge from anyone, so we have no idea why investigators were out investigating. We don’t have any knowledge as to who put them there or why they were put there.”

Partisan Challenge

Bahren stressed there is no challenge against Spear’s democratic opponent Liam O’Neill.

She said that according to standard procedure, the elections boards sends the challenge to the sheriff’s office who sends out investigators, either deputies or plain clothes investigators, on the board’s behalf.  

If the district attorney believes a criminal act has occurred, he may investigate based on information that he gets. “However, in my lifetime here—close to 26 years—I haven’t ever seen a DA do a pre-investigation before we got the challenge here,” Bahren said. “We usually provide the sheriff’s investigator with a copy of the voter’s registration card and a copy of the letter that we send to the voter notifying them that they have been challenged and other items that might be in their file.”

In my lifetime here—close to 26 years—I haven’t ever seen a DA do a pre-investigation before we got the challenge here
— Susan Bahren, Orange County Board of Elections

Bahren would not say if the sheriff department and DA’s actions were illegal or meant to be intimidating. Many of the residents questioned are known to be ethnic Chinese. She said “certainly people [whose registration has been investigated] do have the right to make complaints if they feel that that’s necessary to do that.”

Civil rights attorney Michael Sussman was concerned at the report of the challenge against the voters on Galley Hill Road. “This is becoming the new norm in our region,” Sussman said. “There seems to be litmus test to be able to vote. That’s wrong.”

Bahren found it unusual that that all the voters being challenged are Democratic. “They are all registered Democrats.” She said she will confer with her county attorney representative to what further action, if any, can be taken.

If the people who are challenged feel they are being discriminated against, they can go to the Voter Rights Division of the New York Department of Justice or the Civil Rights Bureau of the state attorney general to file a complaint, Bahren said.

To contact this reporter, email yvonne.marcotte@epochtimes.com.