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Lisa Scott

Your neighbors as citizen educators and advocates

By Lisa Scott

The League of Women Voters of Suffolk County (LWVSC) has been writing a monthly column in this paper for the past 10 months. We thank Leah Dunaief for giving us this opportunity to share our insights and information with TBR readers (in print and online) and look forward to continuing this league “outreach” to our fellow Suffolk County residents each month. We chose the title “Making Democracy Work” very deliberately, since “Work” refers to both a functioning democracy as well as alluding to the “roll up your sleeve” efforts of the league and all of you as responsible citizens in Suffolk.

LWVSC has no actual members — our local leagues in Brookhaven, the Hamptons, Huntington, Shelter Island and Smithtown are the member organizations. The board meets monthly as we exchange best practices and insights, address challenges and plan joint league activities and visibility, as well as observe and study county government and issues and construct responses on a county level. 

We share, we learn, we argue, we support and we inspire greater league visibility and effectiveness. The league is very much a grassroots organization in which our local community/town leagues are vibrant and active on local issues and study and share state and town issues and insights in order to reach consensus to further action.

The league’s passion and mission focus on voter education (in many forms) as well as advocacy on issues that we’ve studied on all government levels. Our overarching philosophy is being nonpartisan: We never support or oppose candidates or parties. We’re collaborative and have a strong commitment to civil discourse and civic engagement.

We recently held our 50th annual convention, which reflected the activities and events Suffolk local leagues held in the past 12 months. We’d like to share some of these with you in order to celebrate the scope and depth of what the league (your neighbors here in Suffolk County) is able to accomplish.

•We held over 100 voter registration drives and distributed voter registration forms at cooperating retail locations, events, fairs and naturalization ceremonies.

•We sponsored or moderated over 20 candidate debates for school boards and for town and county government offices.

•We work closely with the Suffolk County Board of Elections to better understand election processes and rules, advocate for increased voting accessibility (e.g., early voting, no excuse absentee ballots, etc.) and recently met for an overview of poll worker training. 

•There are numerous strong league youth programs that include a selective Students Inside Albany three-day conference; an annual Student Day at the Suffolk County Legislature; a Running and Winning program for girls; working with Girl Scouts on government and woman suffrage badge requirements; presenting a Vote 18 program for high school seniors; and encouraging schools to contact the Board of Elections for education on the voting machine process (using a sample “ice cream ballot”). We developed and publicized public service audio spots for local colleges and communities to remind people about election day and hours and we worked with youth-led political action groups to create Youth Engaging Youth programs to promote civic engagement.

•We hold lots of public information meetings on a wide range of civic topics ranging from elected officials speaking on topics of concern (e.g., Assembly member/committee chair Steve Englebright on offshore drilling and water issues) to an informational meeting on end-of-life choices and decisions. We invite officials such as town justices or town trustees to explain and discuss their roles; host debates on the NYS constitutional convention referendum; presented a panel on immigration on the south fork of Long Island and hold annual town supervisor meetings to discuss challenges and plans.

•There are celebrations, outings and learning opportunities as well: celebrating the LWVUS’ 98th birthday (we were founded by leaders of the woman suffrage movement in 1920); commemorating NYS woman suffrage in 1918 with multiple events, programs and speakers; holding Community Conversation lunches to informally engage with local leaders; organizing tours of less-known communities and sites in our own areas and co-sponsoring films and reading books with panels and discussions.

The public knows the league for debates, voter registration drives and observing at and speaking before local and county government. We’re particularly proud of our annual Directory of Public Officials and the election/voter information available from our website and phones. Learn more about us, help us further achieve our mission to educate and advocate in Suffolk County, join us and support us. Make Democracy Work!

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.

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 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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