Voters in Asharoken have raised concerns after learning that video surveillance cameras were recording as they cast their ballots at Village Hall last month in the first election held since the building opened.
“No matter who I voted for, I would want to keep it private,” resident Martha Brown said. “If you’re being photographed while you’re voting, I would think you’re going to vote for the person in power so they wouldn’t damage you. That’s a terrible way to live.”
Asharoken officials have said they did not realize the cameras were running during the June 21 election, and that they have changed their election checklist to ensure it won’t happen again.
“It was an oversight by the village,” Mayor Greg Letica said. “Nothing more than that, and the village has learned from this experience.”
Village elections on Long Island and across New York State are typically managed by village clerks, and often operate with less county and state oversight than those in larger municipalities, said Tom Connolly, a spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections.
“Surveillance of voters is discouraged because of its inherently coercive, intimidating effect,” said attorney Peter Bee, a partner in Mineola-based firm Bee Ready Fishbein Hatter & Donovan, whose practice includes election law. But, he added, “all surveillance is not prohibited. . . . If you have surveillance cameras up all year ’round, it may not be considered an intimidating process.”
Letica said complaints about the video came from a small group of residents who regularly complain at village meetings.
With 203 ballots cast, voter turnout last month was the highest it has been since Letica was first elected in 2012, when 396 people voted.
Asharoken’s election was supposed to be simple: The mayor and two incumbent trustees were running unopposed. But a last-minute write-in campaign created unexpected competition. The incumbents were re-elected.
Residents said that by its nature, a write-in election made it more likely that camera footage could reveal who voted for the challengers because they wrote a name on the ballot instead of filling in the three circles for the incumbents.
“As far as I know, no one’s right to privacy has been violated because no one has looked at the footage,” Letica said. “I think your right to vote should be private, I think that’s a cornerstone of democracy. I’m not happy the cameras were on when I was voting.” But the mayor said he didn’t think an apology to voters was necessary, likening the situation to problems with the sprinkler system in the new village hall.
Asharoken resident Irwin Klein said that the right to vote in privacy is “sacrosanct.”
“To put that at risk, and to potentially violate that and not turn around and say, ‘We’re sorry, we made a mistake,’ the board and the mayor have to take responsibility,” Klein said. “This is not sprinklers.”