Lawsuit against Great Neck Park District alleges ‘biased and illegal’ election

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Lawsuit against Great Neck Park District alleges ‘biased and illegal’ election
Steppingstone Park in the Great Neck Park District. A lawsuit has been filed against the Great Neck Park District that is alleging “improper, unfair, biased and illegal” election procedures by the district. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

A former Great Neck Park District commissioner candidate, who lost in the Dec. 12 election, has filed a lawsuit alleging the district has conducted “improper, unfair, biased and illegal” election procedures.

“I think a close examination of the facts here can only lead to one conclusion, which is that this thing needs to be investigated further,” Gordon Charlop, who filed the lawsuit, said.

Charlop, who lost to Park Commissioner Tina Stellato in the 2023 election, filed the lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Nassau County on Dec. 29, 17 days after the election.

According to data from the park district, Stellato won re-election in the race with 1,580 votes and Charlop received 710.

The lawsuit alleges the park district election conducted inaccurate balloting, which led to Charlop losing the race.

It alleges the park district’s handling of absentee balloting did not abide by the law in permitting individuals to vote absentee when they may not have met the requirements to do so, as well as harvesting these ballots to be filled out by someone other than the voter.

Ballot harvesting is a voting procedure whereby individuals collect completed absentee ballots and return them on behalf of the voters. This method has been criticized for compromising the fairness of elections through lack of oversight and potentially influencing voters, according to the nonprofit Lawyers Democracy Fund.

Charlop also questioned in the lawsuit the reporting of votes from a voting machine that had broken down amid polling, speculating about 20 votes may have been lost, as well as district voting maps that omitted about 500 eligible voters.

Also alleged in the lawsuit is that the Parkwood Tennis Center, which falls within the district, posted on Instagram an endorsement for Stellato in the 2023 commissioner race which is not permitted.

Charlop said these components may have cost him the election.

Great Neck Park District Superintendent Jason Marra said in an email statement to Blank Slate that the district has been informed of the lawsuit and is referring the matters to its attorneys. He said the attorneys “advise that they are in the process of reviewing Mr. Charlop’s legal action.”

“We will have no comment on the matter beyond noting our confidence that the election for the open seat of commissioner was in all respects lawful and proper,” Marra said.

When previously asked about ballot harvesting, Stellato said she was not even sure if she knew what the term meant and denied that she or anyone else in the district was participating in such acts.

“A lot of people vote by absentee, they have the right to vote by absentee,” Stellato said. “I’ve seen no foul play in any elections.”

A total of 641 in-person votes were cast for Charlop and 719 for Stellato, according to the park district. This compares to a total of 69 absentee ballots cast for Charlop vs. the 861 cast for Stellato, leading to the incumbent garnering 92.6% of absentee votes.

The Great Neck Park District did not provide the difference between machine votes and absentee votes cast in each district. Charlop provided election results for each district based on information he collected from poll watchers on Election Night.

The biggest discrepancy between the candidates was in District 1 – which encompasses Kings Point – where Charlop said he received 151 total votes and Stellato garnered 779. In this district, 22 absentee ballots were cast for Charlop and 398 were for Stellato.

Charlop, a lifelong resident of the Great Neck Park District and a Wall Street broker dealer serving as the managing director of Rosenblatt Securities, said he ran for park commissioner to shine a light on issues in the district’s elections and to advocate for the district’s southern parks.

The lawsuit was a last resort for Charlop, who had spent months trying to obtain the information from the district to verify the validity of the election himself.

Before the election, Charlop said he had asked the district’s attorney if he could compare the signatures on the absentee ballot applications with the submitted ballot from the prior election. He said the attorney denied the request.

Charlop said on Nov. 22, the first day he could view the voter registration in the park district, there were already about 1,200 absentee ballots mailed out to voters. This was also the first day ballots could be mailed out, and he questioned how so many absentee ballots could have been sent out so quickly.

When as a candidate Charlop could view the list of absentee ballots sent with names, he said he found many registered individuals who did not live in the district. He could not leave the district’s office with copies of these records.

Charlop questioned the validity of more than 1,000 absentee ballots within the district as there are narrow qualifications to receive one, saying he suspects very few meet the requirements and are illegitimate.

He said despite these absentee ballots being mailed out, Charlop said many other individuals he knows had difficulty obtaining an absentee ballot. He attributed these challenges to the district obstructing votes to benefit the candidate they wanted.

Charlop, with the help of his softball teammate and attorney Jonathan Silver, sent legal notes to the park district days before the election to inquire about concerns regarding how the absentee ballots are conducted and irregularities. The letter requested a meeting between the two and the park district administration but no meeting was ever held.

Before filing the lawsuit, Charlop said they informed the district that they would take legal action if the district itself provided no remedy, but no response came from the park district.

“Then the election comes out and we get the results and, of course, the absentee ballots are just utterly skewed,” Charlop said.

Charlop said that in the wake of the election he was faced with two choices: just letting it go or continuing to fight against it.

“Somebody has got to step up and do something,” Charlop said.

Just days after the election, Charlop began working to draft the lawsuit filing.

“We felt we were wronged,” Charlop said. “We wanted to get right at it.”

Charlop said he is hoping, at the very least, the lawsuit will shine a light on how the election is conducted. If nothing is found, he said they will have at least restored integrity to the election.

But if wrongdoing is found, he is asking for election results to be tossed out and the district’s election processes “cleaned up.”

He said there will be no negative outcome to this lawsuit unless the process is obstructed.

The case is scheduled to be heard in court on Jan. 24.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. This doesn’t appear to have been a close race. Perhaps make suggestions to the Park Board and move on. You win some, you lose some. Losses can be hard to take, but this just screams “sore loser”. Thank you Gordon Charlop for wasting our tax dollars.

  2. This was a very close election until all of those absentee ballots came in. Doesn’t look like a fair fight somehow. How do you account for a landslide only in the absentee voters?

  3. Mrs. Stellato won without absentees as well. It is my understanding that Mr. Charlop had an absentee link on his website. Had he yielded 700+ absentee votes of his own would he have had issue with it? I’m guessing no-and he shouldn’t. Absentee votes are votes. Again, this suit is a total waste tax payer dollars. Stellato was the better known candidate and most folks are happy with the Parks. Why such issue with absentees in this race and not in the water pollution election where the winner won only on absentees.

  4. The whole Lakeville and Tobin association is very selective in who they want to communicate with. They are very not inclusive in the community. Did it ever occur to them that maybe a lot of people didn’t even want to waste their time to vote. Maybe most people that live in the area of these two associations are happy with how the parks are being manage ???

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