The Babylon Town Clerk’s office Friday rejected as “legally insufficient” a petition organized by Republicans that would have set a November referendum on whether to introduce a district voting system for the Town Board.
Clerk Carol Quirk, responding to a challenge that town Democrats submitted Monday, found that the petition wording did not meet the strict requirements of town and state election law. Instead of each signer affirming his or her address alongside the signature, she found, the petition instead had general language on each page that the signers were town residents and registered voters.
Babylon Republican chairman Tony Pancella said that town Democrats were “thwarting the will of the people. This needs to be on the ballot.”
A Republican Party legal team was reviewing legal options, he said, vowing to bring the measure to a vote in the future, either by lawsuit or another petition drive.
For Republicans, though, neither option is ideal: they will miss the deadline to put the measure on the November ballot, when, they have said, a larger than normal voter turnout from a presidential election would have meant a better chance for the proposal’s success.
Petition supporters argued that electing town board members by district instead of townwide, as it is now, would have meant better representation for residents.
Nick LaLota, an Amityville Village trustee and Republican commissioner for the Suffolk Board of Elections who is a key figure behind the petition effort, argued that a district system could also provide for needed dissent.
“Nobody talks, nobody asserts their own initiatives,” LaLota said of the town board, which he said is dominated by Supervisor Rich Schaffer, who also serves as Suffolk County Democratic Party chairman. “You have a council that’s supposed to have dynamic members who have their own priorities… Here in Babylon, there’s just one individual.”
Schaffer, who opposed the petition on the grounds that it would force districts to compete for town resources and reduce representation for residents who can now turn to any of the five at-large board members, says the current board seeks consensus and input from all of the town’s communities.
“I’ve seen what division does on a national level, and it doesn’t help anyone,” he said. “It makes for a very negative quality of life.”
He said Quirk, a Democrat, based her ruling on statutory requirements, not partisan leanings.