Tags Posts tagged with "League of Women Voters of Suffolk County"

League of Women Voters of Suffolk County

Students line up to speak at a March for Our Lives rally in Port Jefferson Station on March 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Judie Gorenstein

Our democracy works best when everyone participates. Although the League of Women Voters works diligently to encourage all citizens to be informed and active participants in our government, engaging and motivating our youth is a particularly important challenge. Nationwide the young are the least likely to turn out to vote. In the 2016 presidential election, only 50 percent of young people voted. Reasons varied from apathy to alienation, from not feeling their votes counted or mattered to not seeing voting as being important.     

Over the past few years local leagues in Suffolk County have made great efforts to transform students into educated and motivated voters, and 2018 is a good example.

Voter registration drives are held at both colleges and high schools.

Vote 18 is an interactive lesson plan for government classes. This program does more than just register students. It takes them first through the history of voting followed by participation in a mock election for a political office. Following the discussion, the students running for office make their speeches, and before a vote is taken a percentage of students are not given ballots and not allowed to vote. Students see for themselves how nonvoters make a difference in election results. The message is strong: Do not give up your power. Your vote does matter. It is not only important to register but to vote. The majority of students register to vote at the end of this lesson.

Students Inside Albany is a selective, three-day program with 60 students chosen by local leagues from all over the state. They have the wonderful experience of seeing for themselves how their government works. They tour the capitol building in Albany, shadow their NYS Senate and NYS Assembly members, sit in on a legislative session, learn how to lobby and much more. The students are often amazed that it is so different from what they anticipated and often are motivated to explore a political career. Some students have even been given summer internships with their elected officials.

Student Day at the Suffolk County Legislature is co-sponsored by the LWV and the Suffolk County Legislature. High school students take a day to learn about their county government by meeting and hearing from the presiding officer and members of the Legislature and department heads and then prepare for and participate in a mock legislative session where they debate and vote on a bill.  

Running and Winning is a one-day workshop for girls from local high schools to encourage them to consider a political career. Women public officials make brief presentations and then are each interviewed by a group of students who design and present their own political campaign for a virtual woman candidate. Many girls who have never considered political careers leave feeling they can do and be anything they want and will consider public service. 

We strive to develop and present programs that will engage students, which has often been difficult. Recently things began to change. Student groups sought out the league and became student members and learned from us.

Next Generation Politics, a youth nonpartisan political group asked the LWV of Huntington to help with its first event, a public debate on the electoral college versus the popular vote. This group has now affiliated with over 50 chapters in 15 states and works to promote its mission of nonpartisanship and civic engagement. 

Girl Scout troops called the LWV of the Hamptons to develop a program to help their girls earn their suffrage badge. Libraries and high schools have contacted us asking to do youth programs because of a need and interest in their community. 

On college campuses, students came up to our voter registration table and thanked us for being there. 

After the shooting at Parkland High and the youth-created activist movement March for Our Lives, students everywhere are seeing the need to act, to speak out and to have their voices heard. They are now engaging each other, realizing the power of their vote and wanting to make a difference as the future leaders of our country.

Judie Gorenstein is vice president for voter services of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

By Lisa Scott

At the end of March Gov. Cuomo (D) and the New York State Assembly and Senate agreed to a $168 billion budget that tried to please constituencies in an election year while ignoring reforms that are desperately needed. Budget negotiations were conducted behind closed doors among the governor and three top legislative leaders, out of sight of even other lawmakers. It was clear that the policy issues such as gun control or bail reform would not be addressed until (possibly) after the budget’s April 1 deadline, in favor of financial considerations. 

The governor had drafted initial budget proposals that touched on many progressive reforms, yet the negotiations showed that a Republican-led NYS Senate was able to fight hard against any new taxes and fees, and defer inclusion of social policies, while the NYS Assembly had pushed for a large spending increase in its initial budget proposal. The financial 900-lb gorilla in the room was the impact of the new federal tax plan whose cap on SALT (state and local tax deductions) would fall the hardest on New York’s middle class homeowners and taxpayers. The governor called the tax plan “an arrow aimed at the economic heart of the State of New York.” 

The budget also included $26.7 billion in school funding, which will prove useful to incumbent Senate and Assembly members as they campaign for re-election this November.

The League of Women Voters, along with other good government groups, has lobbied long and hard in two areas that were ignored in the final budget: election reform and campaign finance and ethics reforms. Although including the funding for reforms in the budget is the likeliest way to ensure their adoption, it is still possible for the NYS Senate and Assembly to pass bills on these reform areas stipulating their adoption and funding in the following fiscal year (if funding is actually needed). The NYS Senate and Assembly only meet until June 20, so the time for lobbying and constituent pressure is of the essence.  

Election law reforms advocated by the NYS League of Women Voters

Early voting

The league supports enacting early voting in New York State. Currently 37 states allow for some form of early voting. Early voting should be implemented in a manner that will allow equivalent access to the polls for all voters.

 Voter registration

The league supports Election Day registration, on the same day, as a proven method of increasing voter participation. The league also will support reducing the voter registration deadline to 10 days before an election. The league supports pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds.

Ballot design

The league supports improvements to ballot design that would make a clear delineation between offices with a bold vertical bar and a fine line between the candidates, a larger font with an absolute minimum size and fill-in circles in black instead of gray.

Automatic voter registration 

Currently 10 states and the District of Columbia have automatic voter registration (AVR). The league supports an opt-in AVR system that would not require voters to duplicate information. The league supports all state agencies participating in an AVR program.

No-excuse absentee

The league supports a constitutional amendment to allow for no-excuse absentee voting. Currently 27 states and the District of Columbia allow for no-excuse absentee voting.

Single June primary

The league supports legislation that would create a single combined congressional and state June primary date and would bring New York State into compliance with the Military Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. 

Electronic poll books

The league strongly supports replacing printed poll books with electronic poll books to eliminate time and resources spent producing paper poll books and updating voter information and to speed up processing voters at the polls on Election Day. 

Campaign finance and ethics reforms advocated by the NYS League of Women Voters

Ban ‘pay to play’

Strict “pay to play” restrictions on state vendors. The U.S. attorney’s charges that $800 million in state contracts were rigged to benefit campaign contributors to the governor underscores the need to strictly limit contributions from those seeking state contracts.

Close ‘LLC loophole’

Ban unlimited campaign contributions via limited liability companies. LLCs have been at the heart of some of Albany’s largest scandals. 

Strict limits on outside income

Real limits on the outside income for legislators and the executive branch. Moonlighting by top legislative leaders and top members of the executive branch has triggered indictments by federal prosecutors.

Create a database of deals

A “database of deals” will list all state economic development benefits, including grants, loans or tax abatements awarded to a particular business or organization. The database of deals will also include the cost to taxpayers of each job created, and create a uniform definition of what a “job” is across subsidy programs including full time, part time, permanent and contract jobs.

Many good government groups like the league continue to lobby our elected officials in Albany until the end of the session in late June. Please review the above list of reforms, choose one or two, and call or write your NY State senator, Assembly member and Cuomo to express your opinion and priorities. To find the legislators who represent you, enter your street address and ZIP code in the LWV of New York State website link: https://salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/5950/c/8551/getLocal4.jsp.

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

The last decade has taken a toll on Suffolk County’s economy. Stock photo

By Peggy Olness

Note: This article builds on the information contained in the TBR newspapers on March 2. www.tbrnewsmedia.com/making-democracy-work-suffolk-county-government-revenue/.

The $3.06 billion 2018 Suffolk County Adopted Operating Budget is an action plan to fund the county to provide services for its 1.5 million residents and to detail how revenue will be spent by the various departments and agencies during the fiscal year.

The County Executive’s Recommended Operating Budget is submitted to the Suffolk County Legislature whose Budget Review Office (BRO) reviews the budget to ensure that the projections for revenues and expenses are reasonable.MIt is the BRO’s job to look for possible problems and help develop a budget that the Legislature can adopt. Given the possibility of unforeseen events, the county government (the executive and Legislature) has over the years built up reserve funds to handle unexpected events that impact revenues such as the Great Recession of 2008-09 or impact expenses such as major hurricanes or nor’easters. Unfortunately, these funds do not completely cover major disruptions.

The last decade has taken its toll on the county’s economy. Since the Great Recession, the county sales tax revenue has not recovered enough to cover its previous percentage share of the county’s operating expenses, and current sales tax projections do not indicate a sufficient increase in future years to reach that percentage share of the county’s revenue total.

The annual property tax increase is restricted to a 2 percent maximum for some of the factors used in the complex calculation of the total property tax. However, the actual calculation brings the total property tax to slightly more than 3 percent above the previous year countywide.

During this last decade, county government has made a number of changes to cut costs. The county now contributes reduced funding to the nine health centers through community benefit grants, most of which will expire within two or three years, and the county nursing home has been closed and the building sold for less than expected.

The county executive’s recommended budgets for the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years eliminated the Public Health Nursing Program (budget cost less than $1 million). This would negatively impact prenatal and postpartum care services as well as Child Protective Services to Suffolk County residents in need. There are no other certified home health agencies in Suffolk County qualified to provide such services to high-risk mothers and children.

The Health Education and Tobacco Control Program (budget cost about $50,000) was also recommended for elimination. That would impact the tobacco cessation and education courses, sexually transmitted disease prevention programs, anti-bullying programs, diabetes prevention programs and reduces the support for 3,000 teachers trained in the HealthSmart curriculum.

There is concern that while cutting further programs saves money, the negative impact on a large number of residents’ health and welfare is not worth the savings. Both the Public Health Nursing program and the Health Education and Tobacco Control Program have been put back into the budget by the Legislature each year. Removing these programs would also lose approximately $400,000 in New York State Public Health Aid to Municipalities.

In the past decade our county government has used short-term borrowing to close the budget gap, expecting that the sales tax and property tax would rebound with enough surplus to cover the loans. This has not happened; since 2014, the county has borrowed $166.3 million and in 2018 the county must begin paying back this loan.

The search for additional revenue has led the county to impose other forms of “taxation” in the form of fees and charges; the county has increased the motor vehicle surcharge, and the tax map certification fee, and in 2017 a new mortgage administrative tax was added.

Suffolk County is facing a serious financial problem. Make your voice heard by doing research and educating yourself further, talking to your Suffolk County elected officials, and thinking deeply about the balance between community needs and community willingness to pay.

Peggy Olness is a board member of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Suffolk County Government Revenue Sources
Understanding sources and concerns

By Peggy Olness

The Suffolk County Legislature is the elected body responsible for public health and public safety, to maintain the county’s infrastructure (mostly roads and sewers) and provide assistance to those in need, for a population of 1.5 million people. The Legislature sets county policies, appropriates funding, levies taxes, reviews and adopts the annual budget and gives the comptroller authority to issue debt to finance capital projects and cash flow needs and issue bonds (incur indebtedness) for specific purposes.

By law the county must have a balanced budget: Revenue must equal expenditures. Also by law, it cannot tax income. Therefore, the county depends on other types of tax revenues, and in some cases borrowing, to meet the cost of the annual budget. The largest revenue sources (as you can see in the pie chart) are the sales tax, state and federal aid, real property taxes and various fees and grants.

It is important to remember that the annual operating budget is a plan for spending. Thus, during the year changes and adjustments must be made to the budget to accommodate what really happens to the tax revenue stream and necessary expenditures to meet the needs of the citizens (for example, a snowstorm).

While Suffolk County collects the taxes, not all of the tax monies collected go into the county’s general fund to pay Suffolk County expenses. The actual distribution of these revenues often involves other funds specific to programs or purposes.

An example of this is the distribution of the sales tax, which represents about 60 percent of the general fund revenue. Suffolk County collects 8.625 percent on most taxable items. The county gives New York State 4.375 percent and keeps the remaining 4.25 percent, which it may distribute in several ways including:

•By law, the Suffolk County Water Protection Fund receives a dedicated one-quarter cent (0.25 percent) of sales tax revenue, which goes to sewer rate relief, general tax relief, land acquisition (Suffolk County Environmental Trust Fund) and water quality protection.

•By need, the county may allocate up to 3/8ths of 1 percent (0.00375 percent) to the police district fund.

•New York State keeps 4 percent of its 4.375 percent sales tax from Suffolk County and gives the remaining 0.375 percent to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. State and federal aid money is received from New York State and the federal government to fund various programs and varies depending upon the program. The total amount varies from year to year.

Real property taxes are imposed on property owners at a rate based on the value of their property. The New York State Property Tax Cap law limits the amount by which local governments and school districts can raise property taxes from one year to the next. Going over this limit (equal to the lesser of 2 percent or the allowable growth factor) requires a 60 percent vote by the government or district.

Another county constraint on the amount of real property taxes is that nearly a century ago the New York State Legislature enacted the Suffolk County Tax Act, which requires that the county general fund use the collected property tax revenue received to make all other taxing jurisdictions within the county (towns, schools, police and other county and noncounty taxing entities) whole even when property owners are delinquent in paying their taxes.

Certain aspects of this tax act create cash flow issues for the county and other local taxing jurisdictions. This problem is currently being reviewed by the Suffolk County Tax Act Study Committee to see what solutions may be possible.

In addition to the taxes on real property the county also collects revenue from real property tax items. These include the revenue on the sale of defaulted properties; interest and penalties on unpaid taxes; and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs), which are reimbursements for properties that are off the tax rolls because they are owned by the federal government or exempted for other reasons. These real property tax items sometimes contribute more revenue than real property taxes themselves.

Beyond the various legal constraints mentioned, sales tax and property tax revenues tend to rise and fall with the economy since people spend less in bad times; this can place more burden, relatively speaking, on people with lower incomes. Due to the 2008 Great Recession, sales tax revenues dropped and have not recovered enough to produce sufficient revenue as county expenditures have increased. In 2017 county sales tax receipts grew by 4.28 percent but still came in $2.4 million short of budget projections. Therefore, the county has had to find other ways to generate more revenues.

The county has tried to solve the problem by increasing old fees and imposing new ones. Unfortunately, these new fees have not been enough, and since 2014 the county has had to borrow a total of $166.3 million from the Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund (ASRF) to make up the shortfall. In 2018, the county must begin paying back the ASRF.

The new federal tax law, which took effect in 2018, may have significant effects on the county economy, thus leading to more uncertainty about budget projections in the coming year.

(Based on information presented in the Review of the 2018 Recommended Operating Budget prepared by the Suffolk County Legislature Budget Review Office.)

Peggy Olness is a board member of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

A letter to the editor of your local newspaper will reach members of the public as well as your legislator.

By Nancy Marr

As we debated whether or not to support a New York State constitutional convention on Election Day, we considered the only other way change is possible — through the state legislature itself. If our legislators do not choose to make the changes, change cannot happen.

One example is the New York State election system. For many years, the League of Women Voters and other “good government” groups have worked together to convince legislators that our election system needs major improvements. Concern about the very low number of New Yorkers who actually vote has led us to lobby to remove some of the roadblocks to registering and voting.

Although there are no charges of voter suppression in our state, the state constitution prohibits early voting and stipulates that you can change your party designation only prior to the previous year’s election. Access to absentee ballots is very limited. The state requires that we have a full-face ballot, resulting in a ballot that is difficult to read. Counties cannot make any of these changes, so we have turned to the state legislature for action, with no results.

What is the most effective way to bring about change? The Legislature can change these constitutional roadblocks but will have to pass the legislation in two consecutive years and then present it to the voters for approval. To advocate for change, we have to start with our individual assembly member or senator regarding one important issue, for instance, a no-excuse absentee ballot.

How can we convince our legislators to support legislation to allow state residents to vote by absentee ballot without requiring a specific reason? Currently voters must state that they will be out of the county, that they are ill or disabled, are in a veterans hospital, in jail or prison or that they are primary caretakers of a person who is ill or disabled. If you believe that it would benefit all voters if they could vote by absentee ballot for any reason — if they are busy on Election Day, or if they have no transportation — how can you communicate this most effectively?

If we hope to see a change enacted this year, we will have to reach our state legislators by March (or earlier) in order to have the issue considered in the April budget. Start by locating your assembly member or senator and his or her contact details. Check in the league’s Directory of Public Officials at http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/files/DPO2017_3.pdf or go to the website of the Board of Elections at www.suffolkvotes.com to identify your district and legislators.

Call to make an appointment at your legislator’s local office. Explain who you are or who you represent (if you belong to an organization you will be representing) and explain that you want to discuss no-excuse absentee voting because you think it will increase the turnout in your district (which is also your legislator’s district). Try to arrange for two or three persons who agree with you to attend as well. Including a young person can add a new perspective to your presentation.

Before you visit, find out about the legislator: voting record, committee assignments and leadership positions in the legislature, and any bills he or she sponsored that you support. (This information is available on legislators’ websites.) Decide with your companions what you will say, and who will say it. It is helpful for one of the visitors to agree to be the leader or spokesperson, another to be the recorder, and the others to have specific points to add.

Introduce yourselves to the legislator and present your concern about the low turnout in the voting district. Give any statistics that you have to back up your concern. If the legislator is not equally concerned, you and your colleagues may want to talk about why you think it is important that people feel involved in election issues.

Be sure to watch the clock. Knowing ahead how much time the legislator has agreed to spend with you, the leader should allot an appropriate amount of time for each issue and keep everyone on the subject. Record the legislator’s response. If you anticipate printing any part of the interview, you are obligated to get the legislator’s permission and specific conditions under which it may be printed.

Be sure and write a follow-up thank you after the visit. This gives you the opportunity to underscore some of the points made or answer any questions you were asked.

Other ways to express yourselves to legislators are by phone, letter or social media. A letter to the editor of your local newspaper will reach members of the public as well as your legislator. Rallies often are effective ways to make your opinions known and to show support for them. You may be able to arrange a public information meeting to discuss the issue and its significance. Invite your legislator to speak. Even if not concerned about low voter turnout, you could invite him or her to speak along with a representative who would present the opposite point of view.

Maximum impact results from many constituents visiting and communicating with their legislators. Many factors will affect the legislator’s response. Those who are now in office may be reluctant to expand the voting base to the benefit of possible opponents. New York State has representatives from counties that differ widely in their goals and interests. Upstate and downstate representatives are often in opposition because they face different challenges. In a later article we will discuss the political dilemma posed by the downstate/upstate differences and the differences between members of the same party in New York State government.

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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By Judie Gorenstein

On Election Day this November, 31.9 percent of registered voters in Suffolk County turned out to vote in an off-year election. Although this means that less than one-third of those registered actually voted, this was more than 50 percent greater than the turnout four years ago, when only 20.9 percent voted (presidential/congressional elections consistently have greater turnout in even-numbered years).

This substantial increase in the 2017 turnout was the result of an organized opposition to the proposed constitutional convention. For the most part, the opponents were concerned that they might lose their rights to collective bargaining and pension rights for teachers and other public workers.  People are always energized when they fear they might lose something they have, when they believe their rights will be taken away, and turn this energy into action and voting.

What about being motivated to fight for rights you do not have? The women suffragists were highly motivated to fight for the right to vote. In fact, they began in 1848 in Seneca Falls and finally got the right to vote in New York State in 1917; 100 years ago — three years before all women in the United States got that right. Currently, however, New York has one of the lowest voter turnouts, ranking 41 out of 50 states.

It’s true that we do not have laws deliberately designed to discourage voting or restrict those who can vote (such as states whose selective permissible IDs allow gun permits but not college IDs, which disenfranchise specific groups of voters, or require special IDs for those without driver’s licenses, which are only issued in a small number of locations statewide). But we discourage voting in less obvious ways:

• New York is one of the minority of states that does NOT have early voting, which allows voters to go to the polls on selected days prior to Election Day. Allowing people to vote on weekends before Election Day helps those whose work schedules prohibit them from getting to the polls on the first Tuesday in November.

• We are in the minority of states that do NOT have no-excuse absentee voting. Currently, voters must attest that they have a legitimate reason (travel, illness, etc.) to ask for an absentee ballot.

• We have one of the longest time requirements between registration and voting. A New York State voter has to register 25 days before the election. And anyone who wants to vote in a party primary must be registered in that party over a year before the primary (since New York is a “closed primary” state).

• The full-faced ballot that the state requires is difficult to read (requiring magnifying glasses at each polling station) and confusing in design.

• In addition, in even years when we have both state and federal primaries, these are scheduled during two different months; and when there is a presidential election, we add a third primary day. This is not only costly but confuses voters and leads to low voter turnout.

• With our archaic election laws, it is no wonder that New York State voter turnout is low!

Voters who supported the constitutional convention (Proposition 1 on the 2017 ballot) saw it as an opportunity to modernize our election and other laws through citizen involvement in updating the state’s constitution. Since that proposition was defeated, laws can only be changed through the existing legislative process in Albany. This means that bills to change election laws must pass in both the New York Assembly and the New York Senate in two consecutive years.

Can this happen? Yes, it certainly can.

Will it happen? Remember that our state senators and assembly members were elected with the current laws and redistricting that favor the incumbents. New York’s incumbent return rate is one of the highest in the nation, hovering close to 95 percent. Thus, to convince them to introduce and pass bills to change the laws, there has to be a groundswell from the public demanding such change.

Voters need to advocate for the modernization of our election laws and lobby their legislators to introduce and vote for bills that enfranchise voters. We need no-excuse absentee ballots. We need early voting. We need to be able to register closer to the day of the election.  In fact, same-day registration would be preferable. Voters must do their part to bring about these changes.

What can you do?  First, know who your elected New York State officials are. The League of Women Voters of Suffolk County produces a Directory of Public Officials annually, which can be viewed on the LWV of Suffolk County website: www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org and print copies are also available. Once you identify your state senator and assembly member, contact them.

You can join and participate in the good government groups that already exist advocating for change.  You can go the LWV New York State website www.lwvny.org and click on advocacy and see what the League has been doing. You can also organize your own group — get others who like you are civically minded and want to bring about change.  It is true that right now, big money plays a major role in influencing policy on all levels, but remember it is only people who can vote. Speak up, encourage others to do so and have your voices heard. Our democracy works best when everyone participates.

Judie Gorenstein is vice president for voter services of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

The legacy of those women and men 100 years ago is democracy at work for all.

By Lisa Scott

On Election Day next week, you may be offered a blue sticker that says “I Voted.” If you take a closer look, you might wonder why it has a quaint and old-fashioned image with the words “Honoring 100 Years of a Woman’s Right to Vote.” For every one of us that struggle, the victory and the legacy made a tremendous difference in our lives, rights and American democracy today.

The sticker’s image, chosen by public vote across New York State, is Long Island’s Rosalie Gardiner Jones (yes, that Gardiner’s Island and that Jones Beach!). Far from being a grandmotherly, stern face in a photograph, Jones was a flamboyant young socialite from the Oyster Bay-Cold Spring Harbor area who, much to the dismay of her anti-suffragist mother, preferred campaigning for women’s suffrage over the performance of her social duties.

Always with an eye for publicity, in 1912 she joined fellow suffragette Elisabeth Freeman in a trek across Long Island in a horse-drawn carriage to distribute suffrage pamphlets and literature, and in December of that year received much publicity for leading a 170-mile, 13-day march in the midst of winter from the Bronx to Albany to deliver petitions to the governor, demanding a woman’s suffrage amendment in the NYS Constitution.

Jones believed that the movement should exhibit a more military stance and discipline and thus began calling herself “The General.” She carried the suffrage message into small towns and villages with a personal attention that was both impassioned and provocative. After suffrage was achieved, she continued to campaign for equal rights and social reform until she died in 1978.

New Yorkers have long led the struggle for women’s rights; a fight with diverse people and disparate ideas (people disagreed vehemently for years about goals, partners and methods to further the cause). Seneca Falls is considered the birthplace of the women’s rights movement, and some of its greatest leaders, from Susan B. Anthony to Matilda Joslyn Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who summered in Shoreham with her suffragist daughter and family), did their pioneering work in the Empire State. In passing women’s suffrage in 1917, New York fueled the momentum for the entire nation to follow suit three years later.

Women vote today because of the women’s suffrage movement, a courageous and persistent political campaign that lasted over 72 years, involved tens of thousands of women and men and resulted in enfranchising one-half of the citizens of the United States. Inspired by idealism and grounded in sacrifice, the suffrage campaign is of enormous political and social significance, yet it is virtually unacknowledged in the chronicles of American history.

For women won the vote. They were not given it, granted it or anything else. They won it as truly as any political campaign is ultimately won or lost. And they won it, repeatedly, by the slimmest of margins, which only underscores the difficulty and magnitude of their victories. It was a movement of female organizers, leaders, politicians, journalists, visionaries, rabble rousers and warriors. It was an active, controversial, multifaceted, challenging, passionate movement of the best and brightest women in America, from all backgrounds, who, in modern parlance, boldly went where no woman had ever gone before.

The suffrage movement holds a particular relevance now as it has helped lead us as a country and a people to where we are today. It celebrates rights won and honors those who helped win them. It puts women into our national history as participants. It reminds us of the necessity of progressive leaders, organizers and visionaries in every local community. The legacy of those women and men 100 years ago is democracy at work for all: civil rights, gender diversity, equality and civic engagement.

For more about our local suffragists, read Antonia Petrash’s book, “Long Island and the Woman Suffrage Movement.” For thought-provoking insights on the suffrage movement and its legacy, read Robert Cooney’s essay, “Taking a New Look — The Enduring Significance of the American Woman Suffrage Movement,” and his comprehensive book, “Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement.”

Lisa Scott is the president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

The polls will open at 6 a.m. on Election Day.

By Lisa Scott

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. Voting is not only a right, it is a responsibility — our democracy works best when everyone participates. Polls in Suffolk County will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. To confirm that you are registered to vote and confirm your polling place, visit www.suffolkvotes.com — the website of the Suffolk County Board of Elections. If you believe your information is incorrect, call them at 631-852-4500.

If you think you may not be in the county on Election Day or will not be able to get to polls because of illness, complete an absentee ballot application (available at libraries, post offices and town halls or download at http://suffolkvotes.com/Images/ABSENTEE_APPLICATION_%20English.pdf). Print and mail it to the Suffolk County Board of Elections by Oct. 31. They will mail you your ballot, which you must complete and mail back by Nov. 6.

Remember Nov. 7 is a general election. The Suffolk County ballot will include candidates for district attorney, sheriff and judges. All 18 Suffolk County Legislature seats are on the ballot as well. Locally there are elections for various town offices.

In addition to electing public officials, voters have an opportunity to approve or reject proposals made by any local governmental body. These are usually printed on the back of the ballot. This year, New York State has offered Proposals 1, 2 and 3 for consideration by the voter.

The first — “Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?” — is offered by law every 20 years to the electorate.  If the vote is negative, there will be no convention.  If the majority vote yes, there will be a convention in 2019 to consider amendments to the New York State Constitution.

In November 2018 delegates will be elected by the voters — three from each state senatorial district and 15 at large.  The amendments that are adopted by a majority of the delegates will be submitted to the voters for their approval at least six weeks after the convention adjourns.  Proponents of the convention hope that it will affect election and voting and ethics reform, changes that have been proposed to the legislature but never passed.

Other areas for improvement are judicial reform, environmental issues and health care and women’s issues. Opponents of the proposal are concerned that it may lead to a complete overhaul of the state constitution, removing or revising protections of state pensions and collective bargaining, the Adirondack Forest Preserve and school funding.

The second proposal — “Allowing the complete or partial forfeiture of a public officer’s pension if he or she is convicted of a certain type of felony,” — would allow a court to reduce or revoke the pension of a public officer who is convicted of a felony that has a direct and actual relationship to the performance of the officer’s duties.  In reaching this determination the court must consider the seriousness of the crime and whether the forfeiture would result in undue hardship to dependent children. If approved, the amendment will apply only to crimes committed on or after Jan. 1, 2018, because the New York Constitution now provides that the benefits of a public pension or retirement system cannot be reduced or impaired.

The third proposal — “Authorizing the use of forest preserve land for specific purposes,” — would create a land account with up to 250 acres for use by towns, villages and counties that have no viable alternative to using forest preserve land to address specific public health and safety concerns.  Another 250 acres will be added to the forest preserve as a substitute for the land removed. The proposed article would allow counties and townships of certain regions to conduct repairs on road and bridges and allow for the installation of new bike paths, broadband internet and water well infrastructure.

Although the Adirondack Forest Preserve is protected by the “Forever Wild” clause of the constitution, local governments, elected officials and the NYS DEC all support this amendment, feeling it is necessary for the safety of residents and to ensure that quality of life is maintained.

Make sure you are registered to vote by Oct. 13. If you moved since the last time you voted, you must reregister. Watch for news of candidate forums in your community and articles in your local newspaper or visit www.Vote411.org and the Suffolk County Board of Elections website, www.suffolkvotes.com. Be a voter, and have your voice heard.

Lisa Scott is the president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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By Lisa Scott

Elections in Suffolk County in 2017 will be for county and local officials. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. Political party primaries will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 12. The winner in a party’s primary election will run in the general election on that party’s line.

Not every candidate running in every office will be involved in a primary. Primaries only occur when more than one candidate from a party wants the party line for a specific race. Primaries offer the voters an opportunity to choose the candidate who will be on the ballot in the general election for that party.

Turnout in local elections and primaries, is historically low … find out if you are eligible to vote in a primary, and make your voice heard. Stock photo

 

Many states have open primaries, which do not require that voters are enrolled in the party that is holding the primary. In fact, there are some states that permit voters to register to vote and select a party on the day of the primary. New York, however, has closed primaries, which means the voter must be enrolled in the party in order to vote in that party’s primary. The only exception to that rule is if a minor party allows voters who are not enrolled in any political party to vote in its party. This is rare, but this year any unaligned voter may vote in the primary held by the Reform Party.

Turnout is generally very low in a local election year and even lower in the primaries. The League of Women Voters encourages everyone who is eligible to vote in a primary to do so. To qualify to vote in this year’s primaries, you would have had to be registered to vote by Aug. 18 and, other than to vote in Reform Party, you must be enrolled in a party that is holding a primary in your election district. Note that if you were changing your political party or had not been enrolled in a party, the change would have to have been done by Oct. 14, 2016. (New York State requires that voters who wish to change their party registration must do so prior to the previous election.) So if, for example, you changed your party affiliation to (a hypothetical) Party Z on Nov. 10 of last year, you would not be able to vote in Party Z’s primary this year.

If you are not sure whether you are enrolled in a party, or want to know if your party is having any primaries in which you can vote, call the Suffolk County Board of Elections at 631-852-4500 or visit its website at www.suffolkvotes.com. Click the left side link to Check Your Registration, or visit the NYS Board of Election voter lookup page at https://voterlookup.elections.state.ny.us/votersearch.aspx. If you want to change your party affiliation for next year, this must be done by Oct. 13, 2017.

Remember that mistakes occasionally happen. If you know that you are eligible to vote in a primary and are told you are not in the poll book when you get to the polls, ask for an affidavit ballot.  Affidavit ballots are turned into the Suffolk County Board of Elections, which will verify if you were eligible to vote in the primary and then notify you if your ballot was counted.   Never leave the polls without voting.

At the Nov. 7 general election you will be voting for Suffolk County district attorney, Suffolk County sheriff, County Court judge and Family Court judge as well as your Suffolk County legislator and many of your town public officials. In addition, there will be three propositions on the back of the ballot, which will be discussed in next month’s column. Learn the facts. Be an educated voter.

Lisa Scott is the president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Observe, educate yourself and then make your voice heard. Stock photo

By Lisa Scott

The League of Women Voters (LWV) has a strong commitment to open government and civic engagement. Protecting our right to know is integral to the health of our democracy. One important way to ensure that decisions are made with public input and oversight is for citizens to observe government meetings.

New York State’s Open Meetings Law, often known as the Sunshine Law, went into effect in 1977. Amendments that clarify and reaffirm your right to hear the deliberations of public bodies became effective in 1979.

In brief, the law gives the public the right to attend meetings of public bodies, listen to the debates and watch the decision-making process in action. It requires public bodies to provide notice of the times and places of meetings and keep minutes of all action taken.

The Open Meetings Law provides the public with the right to attend meetings of public bodies, but it is silent concerning the ability of members of the public to speak or otherwise participate. Although public bodies are not required to permit the public to speak at their meetings, many have chosen to do so. In those instances, it has been advised that a public body should do so by adopting reasonable rules that treat members of the public equally. (To learn more about the Open Meetings Law, visit www.dos.ny.gov/coog/right_to_know.html.)

To start exercising your rights, go to a government meeting as an observer so that you become familiar with the procedures and rules and the issues. Acquaint yourself with the protocols for public comment, so that you can speak to these issues when appropriate.

In order to encourage every Suffolk County resident to become familiar with their elected officials, the LWV compiles and prints ​a 28-page booklet annually called the ​Directory of Public Officials (DPO)​, a guide to elected federal, state, county, town and local officials. You’ll know how to contact them — addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and websites. You’ll see salaries, terms of office, whether there are term limits and whether they are up for election each year.

The ​DPO​ includes a section with a breakdown and details of the Suffolk County budget, as well as a color map of Suffolk County legislative districts and a list of Suffolk County legislative committees with members, meeting days and times. Phone contacts for key Suffolk County departments and agencies are included too. (The Directory of Public Officials can be viewed by visiting www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/files/DPO2017_ 2.pdf​.)

State, county, town, village, library and school district websites are good sources for general, committee and board meeting schedules, as well as agendas for upcoming meetings and minutes of those that have already occurred.

Local media (newspapers and community websites) report on a great many issues and government meetings. However, you may have concerns about issues that are not covered by local media and should take responsibility to observe and participate when these issues are discussed at government meetings. Be an informed, engaged citizen and participate. Democracy is not a spectator sport!

Lisa Scott is the president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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