A Place Where Votes Really Do Count
by Erik Holm
If you're one of the 175 or so registered voters in the tiny Fire Island Village of Saltaire, here's a primer on running for political office there: Get the 6 signatures you need to qualify for the ballot -- 8 to be safe.
Create your own personal political party, complete with logo.
And for Pete's sake, know your issues: the deer, the cars and the Great Barbecue Ban are big ones. Again.
But if you're one of the 175 registered voters, you probably already know where to turn for that sort of advice. If your wife or neighbor isn't a village trustee, your uncle or your best friend is probably a candidate.
It's that small a place.
"We run an informal sort of democracy here," said Frank Markus, who's up for the unpaid job of village trustee in the election to be held on Friday.
"It's a lot like the ancient Greek democracy, where everything was decided at the Forum." In Saltaire, elections aren't won or lost in the carved stone amphitheater of the Forum. Instead, it's the annual village hall candidates forum, where nearly half the residents who will end up casting ballots in the election show up to ask questions of the candidates, their neighbors.
Unlike dozens of other incorporated villages across Long Island, where the race for seats on the village board are often a choice between the one name on the ballot, or no one, the elections in Saltaire are usually contested races.
Last year, there were six people running for three spots. This year, four candidates are running for two trusteeships. The mayor, Martin Berger, is running unopposed in Friday's election.
Though it's a tiny village, the election rules that apply for every municipality in New York still govern the way elections are run. That means potential candidates have to gather signatures equal to 5 percent of the voters in the previous election to qualify for the ballot.
And each candidate is required to run on a party line.
"I don't even remember what my party is called," said Liv Hempel, one of the incumbents up for re-election. "That's how little it matters." What does matter, said the fourth candidate, incumbent trustee Anna Hannon Gill, are the issues.
When it comes time to vote, the village's 40 or so year-round residents will be outnumbered by the summer crowd, many of whom are registered to vote there despite maintaining another home elsewhere. In fact, each of the four trustee candidates has a residence in Manhattan. If Friday's election follows the pattern of recent contests, more than 100 people will vote-roughly 60 percent of registered voters.
"Our vote counts here far more than it does anywhere else," said Gill of the willingness of people to vote in the local contest. "And I have so much more invested in Saltaire."
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