Board of Elections votes down a motion to investigate Silver family apartment

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A motion to ask the Manhattan district attorney to investigate possible voter fraud allegations against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver were blocked this afternoon at a meeting of the New York City Board of Elections.

The request came after the New York Post reported that three of Silver's adult children continue to maintain his Grand Delancey Street apartment as their official residence, even though they live in Brooklyn, Long Island and New Jersey, respectively.

Three Republicans and one Democrat voted in favor of referring the investigation to the D.A.'s office, but the motion did not have the six votes needed for a majority. Three Democratic commissioners abstained and one voted against the investigation. The Democrat who voted in favor of the probe was the board's president, Maria Guastella.

Fred Umane, Republican commissioner from Manhattan who voted in favor of the motion, told me "it's very hard to prove or disprove residence for the purpose of the election law," and that "if there's nothing wrong with it, the D.A.'s investigation would show that."

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There's some leeway in the election law when it comes to declaring a voter's residency, in part to accommodate college students, military service men or people who frequently visit a summer or vacation home. Umane said Silver's children do not appear to fit any special case for claiming his residency.

"If people have sufficient ties to locations out of the city or assembly district, they ought to vote where they really live not where they claim to return to," he told me.

Executive Director Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, a good-government advocacy group, said Silver's chldren should not be voting from their father's apartment since they don't live there.

"Voting from an address where you don’t reside is illegal," he said in an emailed statement. "I can’t believe that the Speaker enabled the breaking of this election law. You may have different homes, but you have to actually live there to legitimately vote from that address. Voting is not an exercise where you can call it in from a place where you no longer sleep."

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, called Silver's children voting from his Delancey Street apartment "quizzical" and in need of a better explanation than simply asserting its legality, which a Silver spokesman did in the Post story.

Lerner said she's in favor of voters deciding which residency they consider their primary one, but said Silver's situation raises red flags.

"Maybe he does have a really large home with rooms for all his children," she said.

When contacted for comment about Dadey and Lerner's comments, a spokesman for Silver passed along a statement from longtime election lawyer Jerry Goldfeder, who dismissed the Post report as "obviously politically slanted".

The state election law, Goldfeder said, "is quite clear that candidates and voters may have multiple residences and may choose one from which to run or vote. In the cited article the NY Assembly Speaker's adult children continue to maintain close and continuous contacts with their family apartment. As long as they do not register or vote from another place (they do not) and as long they spend meaningful time at their parents' home where they grew up (they do), the case law consistently and unambiguously permits them to continue to consider this apartment as their continuing domicile for the purpose of voting. It is, after all, the family's home."