Tags Posts tagged with "Making Democracy Work"

Making Democracy Work

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By Lisa Scott

A few weeks ago, the League of Women Voters was asked by the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County to assist voters at an event on April 8. What we learned that night about the vision, empowerment and maturity of our “not-yet voters” is truly inspirational and remarkable. Keep in mind Girl Scouting’s mission: building girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place. 

Today, a civil discourse on most issues is nearly impossible. Most influencers seem to drown out individuals who want to learn “the story behind the story” and reach thoughtful well-researched conclusions. Yet the Girl Scouts’ participation in and embracing the 12,000 Voices initiative was a model for us all.

The name 12,000 Voices was chosen for its aspirational value. Start with readings of “12 Angry Men” performed by 12 Impassioned Women, over the course of one weekend, all over the country: in high schools, community and regional theaters, community colleges, universities and community centers. Over the course of time, imagine readings in 1,000 locations, accumulating 12,000 voices. The event is planned to take place nationally every year.

The readings took place in every nook and  cranny of the country, in red, blue and purple communities in all 50 states. And after each staged reading there was an opportunity to update voter registration and learn about voter engagement.  Voter suppression is real. Gerrymandering is real. Individual voices and votes matter. 

We can increase awareness and participation through the power of girls’ and women’s voices as they read this classic play.Only one juror votes “not guilty.” As tempers flare and the arguments begin, the audience learns about each member of the jury. The power of one impassioned voice, speaking with conviction, is breathtaking.

Above, the logo for 12,000 voices. Stock photo

And what did the girls take away from this experience? That taking positive risks builds confidence and leadership skills. They developed greater understanding of the extreme importance of the role of a jury in our judicial system; a civic duty that should be welcomed, not avoided. Girl Scouts promise to serve their country and help people at all times, and civic engagement fits very well within this pledge. They feel empowered, they know they have a voice within the civic community, and that their voices and opinions matter. 

Additionally Girl Scouts of Suffolk County was delighted to have a show of amazing diversity among its women actors, with a wide range of ages, cultural backgrounds and life experience, which is quite different from the original cast of “12 Angry Men.”  Such diversity brought a refreshing and exciting tone to the script, and strengthened the message of the show, allowing it to become that much more significant. 

The audience ranged in age from middle-schoolers through grandparents, but each person was able to take away a clear and cogent understanding of the power of individuals to make a difference in situations both small and personal, or national and affecting our place in in society and the planet we all share. Let’s all learn from Girl Scouts; they will be our future leaders. 

For more information on Girl Scouting in Suffolk County, visit www.gssc.us or call 631-543-6622. The league looks forward to strengthening our partnerships with the Girl Scouts and encouraging youth civic education and engagement in a nonpartisan environment.

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 http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Early voting will take place in New York State before the Nov. 5 general election. Stock photo

By Lisa Scott

Voting is about to get easier for New Yorkers. New York has long been behind most of the country when it comes to voting. Our election laws were archaic, making it difficult for people to vote and resulting in low voter turnout. However, both the NYS Assembly and Senate passed several bills on election law, most of which have been signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Not all are effective immediately and some will require additional money to be added in the state budget. Other reforms such as no-excuse absentee ballots and same-day voter registration must go through the NYS Constitution amendment process, which will delay their implementation for at least three years.

Early voting will take place for the first time in New York for the Nov. 5, 2019 general election. (Thirty-eight states and District of Columbia have already instituted in-person early voting.) Voters will be able to vote at designated poll sites 10 days prior to Election Day. Each county board of elections will follow the law designating the number of and placement of the early voting poll sites and notify voters of the days, hours and locations of the early polling sites. But all NYS county boards of elections (especially those like Suffolk County, which have large populations and geographic areas) face a myriad of challenges to meet the early voting law requirements.

The League of Women Voters of New York (LWVNY) estimates the cost of statewide early voting to be $9.3 million for implementation in the 2019 general election. The law requires one site per 50,000 registered voters over a period of 9 days with 8 hours of weekday early voting and 5 hours of weekend early voting.

The projected cost areas include poll sites (rental fees for 83 additional sites throughout NYS), staffing and training (training session costs and staffing compensation), voting equipment (some counties may need to purchase new equipment including electronic poll books), security (voting machines and ballots must be secure 24/7 throughout the period of early voting) and education (statewide mailings advising all registered voters this would be a one-time cost).

In particular, electronic poll books (utilizing secure tablets or laptops with data downloaded in advance eliminating Wi-Fi/hacking concerns) are essential for Suffolk and similar multisite early voting counties in NYS. They allow greater ease and accuracy during the early voting period and will have long-term cost savings after their initial investment. They provide a fast check-in process, reducing the propensity for long lines. They reduce the need for provisional ballots because voters’ records can be searched for in multiple ways. And if a voter is in the wrong place, she can quickly be directed to the correct precinct in order to cast a regular ballot.

Additionally they can be updated right before the election, reducing the rush to enter registration and updates in time to print and distribute paper poll books; and they make postelection updates much faster and accurate. Three NYS counties conducted successful pilot projects utilizing electronic poll books last year.

As of mid-March 2019, Cuomo had not included funding for early voting in his January 2019 Executive Budget (and his February amendment proposals). LWVNY and other good-government groups have been lobbying NYS Senate and Assembly members to include early voting funding in their budget amendments in March. NYS law requires a budget by April 1 each year, so there will be substantial negotiations for the governor and the NYS Senate president and Assembly speaker in late March.

The governor contends that significant savings from a consolidated single state primary will be adequate to cover early voting costs. But there is only one primary date in 2019, so that money will only become available in 2020. Absent funding for early voting in the 2019 NYS budget, each county will have to find its own funding for early voting this year. Suffolk County will thus face a substantial unfunded mandate from NYS in a time of decreasing revenues and substantial borrowing.

Contact your NYS Senate and Assembly leadership and representatives and Cuomo now to ensure appropriate funding for a successful early voting rollout in November!

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 http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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By Nancy Marr

According to the Gun Violence Archive, the number of mass shootings during 2018 in the United States has been estimated at 346, with 18 of them in schools. But laws backed by the NRA and other pro-gun groups prevent the public from seeing which firearms dealers are selling the most guns used in crimes, information the federal government collects but won’t share, even with premier research universities. The NRA also pushed through rules that had a chilling effect on federal studies focused on how guns affect public health, denying policymakers a road map for better gun laws.

Regulating the ownership and use of guns by the federal government began in the 1920s and ’30s with support from the general public and the NRA, then a sporting and hunting association. Since then the federal government and the states have passed legislation requiring background checks, waiting periods, licenses for concealed weapons carriers, restrictions on purchases for certain high-risk people and a ban on assault weapons and ammunition. 

The 1993 Brady Act, against NRA opposition, tightened the background check requirements and created the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS system, to provide speedy background checks. After the shooting at Sandy Hook governments turned their attention to preventing shootings by high-risk people.  

New York State passed the SAFE Act (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act), amending its Mental Hygiene Law to add a new reporting requirement that mental health professionals currently providing treatment services to an individual must make a report to authorities, “if they conclude that the individual is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.” The act requires those who live with a household member “who has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence crime, has been involuntarily committed, or is currently under an order of protection” to “safely store” and lock any guns in a secure gun cabinet.

NRA opponents of the regulations state that the laws only hurt people who adhere to current firearms laws, and the regulations about gun locking devices prevent gun owners from using their guns in self-defense.

The League of Women Voters of the United States has been in support of stricter laws for background checks, more gun safety education, a ban on assault weapons and protection for victims of domestic violence from abusers who possess guns. The LWV of New York supported legislation to establish criminal sanctions for possession and sale of assault weapons, which were banned in 1994 but released from the ban in 2004. 

Currently, on both the federal and state levels, there are laws that are being considered during this session that would deal with many of the loopholes and problems of illegal firearm use.  

On the federal level, proposed legislation this term includes: requiring unlicensed sellers to meet their buyers (with certain exceptions) at a licensed gun dealer who would run a background check using the same process used for his own inventory, support for a ban on assault weapons, broadening the definition of domestic abusers to the laws protecting victims of domestic violence and opposing a national bill that allows people to carry concealed weapons.  

On the NYS level, in January the Assembly and the Senate passed six important gun control bills related to an extreme risk protection order (ERPO/“red flag”) law, background checks extension, a bump stock ban, a ban on arming educators, out-of-state mental health records check and gun buyback programs. In February we hope that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signs these bills, and that the needed regulations are written and appropriate funding allocated. 

Contact your U.S. representative and NYS senator and Assembly member to find out how they voted or plan to vote, and what they think of these bills. Thank them if they did vote for those you care about, and clearly communicate your concerns and advocacy when they did not. For more information, go to the Senate or Assembly websites to research details on the individual bills or check with individual congressional or NYS legislative aides via phone or email. Make your voice heard on this important issue. 

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 or call 631-862-6860.

Pay inequities based on gender and color are finally being addressed in Suffolk County. Stock photo

By Lisa Scott

Somewhat quietly in late 2018, the Suffolk County Legislature and County Executive Steve Bellone (D) added an important tool to the fight for pay equity: The Restricting Information on Salaries and Earnings (RISE) Act. 

The League of Women Voters of Suffolk County commends the entire Legislature and the county executive for taking this action. It is fair; it’s sound economics; it can reduce the need to pay for additional social support for working families; and it’s good for Suffolk County’s citizens. It shows that our county’s legislators and executive can work to reclaim their place as innovative, socially responsible elected officials while operating with foresight in a fiscally prudent manner. 

Why should pay equity be a concern for us all? Race and gender are significant factors in what women earn for doing the exact same jobs as men. In April 2018, the New York State Department of Labor reported that Suffolk County women in general earn just 78.1 cents for every dollar a man earns. Comparably, black women are paid about 64 cents for every white male dollar, and the pay gap of Latina women is about 55 cents to a white man’s salary dollar. 

Equal Pay Day in April reflects how long AFTER the end of the year a woman has to work before she takes home the same amount of earnings as a man in the prior year — thus, over 15 months of work for a woman to earn what a comparable man earned in 12 months!

Pay inequality isn’t just a women’s issue; it is a family issue. Recent research has found that 42 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 are their families’ primary or sole breadwinners. Wage discrimination can impair their ability to buy homes and pay for a college education and limits their total lifetime earnings, thereby reducing their retirement savings and benefits.

Gender pay inequity and low wages put the burden of meeting the expenses of employees squarely on the backs of local taxpayers, who make up the difference in the costs of living with social safety net programs.

The pay gap not only hurts women and their families, but it also hurts the communities they support. That means local businesses are hurt through lost sales, as are local schools and governments that depend on sales tax and property tax dollars to fund the programs and the infrastructure those communities need to exist. In New York State, social service costs are paid directly by county governments that then must wait for state and federal reimbursement. 

If pay equity makes good economic sense for our communities, how does the RISE act work toward this goal? The bill, which takes effect on June 30, 2019 was initially created to restrict employers from using salary and benefits history when establishing salary and benefits for new employees. The Legislature explained that utilizing this information in decision making perpetuates wage discrimination and the wage gap experienced by women, racial and ethnic minorities and employees returning to the workforce after an extended period away.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently signed an “equal pay for work of equal value bill” that directs the president of the civil service commission to study and publish a report evaluating public employers’ wage disparities related to the job titles segregated by the gender, race and/or national origin of the employees in the title. Once completed, the study will be delivered to the governor and the leaders of the Legislature, and the data from the study will be used to address pay inequities in the state’s workforce. 

“New York State has to be a leader on this issue — a model of reform,” the bill’s sponsor, Assembly member Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) said. “By getting our own house in order and ensuring that our public employees are being paid fairly for the work that they are doing, we are sending the wider message that wage disparities cannot be tolerated in a society that prides itself on treating everyone fairly.”   

The NYS Legislature is only in session until June. We must advocate now to strengthen our equal pay laws so that women have the tools they need to fight back against pay discrimination. 

The league’s work on pay equity stemmed from member concern over the feminization of poverty in the 1980s. Additional sources for pay equity information and advocacy include AAUW, PowHerNY, National Women’s Law Center and the Center for American Progress.

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 or call 631-862-6860.

Offshore oil and gas drilling has devastating effects on marine life. Stock photo

By Nancy Marr

On Jan. 4 of this year, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the federal government is developing a five-year plan to lease ocean lands in federal offshore areas all along our shorelines, including two leases on the North Atlantic region of the Outer Continental Shelf to companies that would drill for gas and oil. (Each state along the Atlantic coast owns the waters 3 nautical miles from the shore at mean low tide; they have jurisdiction to decide whether or not to lease their territory for oil and gas.)

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has been considering the many possible effects of offshore drilling compared with the estimated potential of the gas and oil drilling. Research by BOEM will consider a wide range of issues: physical considerations; biological considerations; social, economic and cultural considerations; and alternatives and mitigation measures. BOEM estimates that, at current national consumption rates, the support of undiscovered economically recoverable offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coast of Florida would only meet domestic oil demand for two years and gas demand for just over one year. 

Opposition has been growing 

Both Republican and Democratic governors in every state where offshore drilling doesn’t already exist (except Maine) have expressed opposition to opening their coastlines to the oil and gas industry. In case efforts to exempt their states are unsuccessful, lawmakers in California, New York and New Jersey are pushing legislation that would make new offshore drilling in federal waters as difficult as possible.

Resistance to the plan has been expressed by at least 130 organizations along the Eastern Seaboard, including groups that support conservation, wildlife, clean water and political action.

The risk of oil spills, which could destroy the environment for a wide area, as it has in the Gulf, is a major cause of opposition. 

Seismic air guns that fire intense blasts of compressed air every 10 to 12 seconds 24 hours a day for months on end will disrupt and displace marine life, including whales, which rely on sound to find food and mates, sea turtles and many fish and shellfish species, including those of commercial importance. 

Drilling and processing infrastructure along the shoreline and in nearby areas will limit tourist and recreational activities.

• Tourism, with fishing and other industries that depend on clean, oil-free water and beaches, supports nearly 320,000 jobs, which could be lost, with $5.6 billion from the tourism economy of Long Island.

The fossil fuel industries create five times fewer jobs than are created by the clean energy sector.

This proposal will slow our nation’s progress toward solving the climate change problem. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress and released in November 2018, concluded that coastal communities and the ecosystems that support them are increasingly threatened by the impacts of climate change.

What can be done

Although dissent was expressed at many public hearings, it is likely that the Department of the Interior intends to carry out its offshore drilling plan. The League of Women Voters urges towns and villages that will be affected by drilling to pass memorializing resolutions to submit to the BOEM and its local elected officials. Riverhead, Southold, Shelter Island and Southampton towns in Suffolk County have already done so. (See a sample resolution at http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/TakeAction.html.)

Representative Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) of the 1st Congressional District has opposed the drilling plan at local meetings. Individuals should write, call or email him (30 Oak Street, Patchogue, NY 11772; 631-289-1097; www.zeldin.house.gov/contact) to express their concerns about the need to protect our local economies and the environment.

Write to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), U.S. senators Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and your New York State senators and assemblypersons (visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/DirectoryOfPublicOfficials.html for full contact details).

A revised plan, with a new period of public comment, may be released this month. If implemented, it will affect all of us. We can protest, as individuals. We should each also contact our town and village governments to ask them to adopt memorializing resolutions in opposition to the drilling in order to protect our oceans, our fishing industry, our tourism and our quality of life. Specific requests for action by many constituents are always more effective with elected officials … Act now!

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, call 631-862-6860.

By Lisa Scott

In New York State, we’ve truly had a landmark election. We had record-breaking rates of voter participation statewide with nearly 50 percent of voters turning out to vote.

Nationwide, in the face of suppression attempts, long lines, broken machines and partisan gerrymandering, voters turned out in huge numbers. They demanded better from our leaders. More women were elected to office than ever before, including the first Muslim and Native American women, the first black woman from New England and the first Latina women from Texas — all elected to Congress. Voting rights were expanded, with redistricting reforms and expanded registration passed in at least six states.

We are so proud of young voters who showed up, increasing the national youth turnout by roughly 50 percent over 2014. Early estimates signaled this could be the highest turnout for 18- to 29-year-olds since 18-year-olds were first granted the right to vote in 1971. Their votes helped to elect one of the most diverse slates of federal candidates, decided thousands of elections up and down the ballot and impacted progressive ballot measures across the country. By 2020, young people will comprise nearly 40 percent of voters, including nearly 9 million who turn 18 between now and the 2020 election. The League of Women Voters will continue and expand its programs to engage, educate and encourage youth to register and vote; they are our future.

In New York State strong voter turnout also highlighted the vulnerabilities and problems with our NY election laws. Separate primaries — federal offices held in June and state and local held in September — resulted in ballots not being certified until 3 weeks before Election Day and a significant delay in absentee ballots being mailed out. This resulted in confusion, mistrust and voters feeling disenfranchised. Yet there were increased absentee ballots submitted, indicating the importance of early voting options to our fellow NYS voters. Not having early voting also created long lines and extra problems on Election Day for voters, poll workers and the BOE.

The good news is that there is a way to solve these problems as early as next year. Early voting in NYS does not require a constitutional amendment but can be achieved through legislation in Albany. It will require electronic poll books, which have been used successfully in pilot projects in two NYS counties; the technology exists and is already being used in many states. Consolidating primaries does not need a constitutional amendment but needs agreement among lawmakers of both parties. Establishing only one primary date, earlier than September, would save NYS considerable money, which could offset the cost of early voting. Consolidated primaries would also end the problem of delayed mailing of absentee ballots.

Now that the election is behind us, it’s time to look ahead. The NYS Senate will now have a majority of Democratic members, many of whom have voiced support for league voting reform efforts in the past. The NYS Assembly passes voting reforms each year. We feel confident that we will finally see passage of early voting and other voting reforms in New York State during the January-June 2019 legislative session, with approval by the governor (and including funding in his budget).

The league will also continue its work registering more new voters, providing more nonpartisan information on candidates, hosting more debates and forums and advocating for legislation on critical issues, in an effort to create a more perfect democracy so that ALL Americans enjoy the same liberties and freedoms. Our democracy is truly strongest when everyone participates and has their voices heard. On Nov. 6, voters made huge steps toward full participation. But we still have so far to go. With your help and participation, the league can make a difference in your communities, Suffolk County, New York State and the nation. Call or email us to find out how you can get involved.

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 http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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By Judie Gorenstein

Will you be using your power on Nov. 6 or abdicating it to others? Voting is not only a right but a responsibility. Yet in New York voter turnout is exceptionally low: 49th out of all 50 states in 2014 at 28 percent of eligible voters. But this year’s September primary drew twice as many voters as 2014, so with your participation we can similarly do more than double 2014’s numbers.

What do you need to know to be not only a voter but an educated one? You can check your registration details at the Board of Elections www.SuffolkVotes.com website, including your polling site and if you are enrolled in a party. If you know you are registered but your name is not there, call Suffolk BOE at 631-852-4500 to resolve any issue. October 12 is the deadline for voter registration in New York State this year. Libraries and post offices have forms and they’re also online at www.SuffolkVotes.com and should be mailed to the Suffolk BOE.

Will you be out of the county for work, school or vacation and unable to get to the polls on Nov. 6? Does a disability or hospital or rehabilitation stay prevent you going to the polls? Are you a primary caregiver and unable to vote in person? If so, you can vote on an absentee ballot. This is a two-step process. Apply for an absentee ballot by picking up a copy as described above for voter registration form, filling out the request and mailing it to the BOE by Oct. 30.

 The BOE will mail you your ballot in time for you to complete and mail back to the BOE by Nov. 5. If after you vote on an absentee ballot and then you find you can and want to vote at the polls, you MAY and your absentee ballot will not be counted. Absentee ballots are counted days after the polls close when the BOE can compare them to signatures in poll books. However, be assured if you are not able to vote on Election Day and your absentee ballot was completed correctly, it will be counted.

For those who find out after Oct. 30 that they cannot get to the polls on Nov. 6, the Suffolk BOE will be open during the weekend before Election Day. You can go to the BOE at 700 Yaphank Ave. in Yaphank and vote on an absentee ballot, which will be counted as the others are. Check its website or call the BOE to find the days and hours.

This year in Suffolk County, we will be electing our representatives in Congress (Suffolk includes all or part of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd CDs), one U.S. senator, NYS governor, NYS lieutenant governor, NYS attorney general, NYS comptroller, NYS senators, NYS assemblypeople, Suffolk County comptroller, Suffolk County clerk and Suffolk County judges. Depending on your area, there may also be special town elections or local propositions on your ballot.

Knowing who is on your ballot and learning about the candidates before you get to the polls is vital. An excellent nonpartisan data aggregation service is www.BallotReady.org, which not only gives you the candidates on your ballot but provides background information on the candidates and their stances on major issues, who is endorsing them and, if you choose, will also send you a reminder to vote. You can access it at www.VotingNewYork.org. 

When possible see and hear the candidates in person at candidate forums, debates and events. Try to find out whether the event is sponsored by a nonpartisan group in order to get a fair perspective. The press, websites and other media have lots of useful information but most do endorse candidates or represent political party perspectives. Educate yourself and encourage others to do so. You’ll all learn more, and sharing insights and facts will broaden everyone’s view and motivate all to be voters. 

 Your vote is your power. If you go to the polls Nov. 6 and find your name omitted from the poll book, ask for an affidavit ballot (also called provisional ballot). Never ever leave a poll site without voting! Provisional ballots, just like absentee ballots, are counted at the Suffolk County BOE after Election Day, and elections are not certified until they are all reviewed. Make your choice count … be a voter!

 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 http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860. 

Students holding buttons at voter registration

By Judie Gorenstein

New York ranked 41 out of 50 states in voter turnout in 2016 and 49 out of 50 in the 2014 off-year election. Of all eligible New York voters, only 28.2 percent voted in 2014. When you look at the youngest age group, those between 18 and 25 years old, the turnout is even lower. And nationally in 2016, 70 percent of those over 70 years old voted. By contrast, only 43 percent of those under 25 did.

As Election Day approaches, students who leave for college will ask how and where they should register and vote. Although a Supreme Court decision in 1979 gave all students the right to vote where they attend college, election law is a state’s right. Each state thus has its own laws regarding voting, including registration deadlines, residency and identification requirements (ID) at the polls. 

In New York State, any citizen not in jail for a felony conviction can register to vote in the year they turn 18. To vote this year they must be registered by Oct. 12 and be 18 by Nov. 6, the date of the 2018 General Election. 

Even if a college student is living in another state or another New York county, they can ALWAYS vote absentee in their home district, which is a two-step process. They first need to complete an absentee ballot application and mail or deliver it to their county Board of Elections by Oct. 30. (The application form can be downloaded from NY BOE at http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/voting/AbsenteeBallot-English.pdf and is available at libraries, post offices and the BOE.) 

The BOE will mail the actual ballot to the student, who must return it to the BOE postmarked by Nov 5. As long as the ballot was correctly completed and received by the BOE no later than 7 days after Election Day, the vote will be counted. Absentee ballots matter … they can change an election’s outcome.  

Frequently college students decide to register and vote where they are attending college. They feel it is important to get connected and have a voice on the issues in their new community and in the state where they may be living for four plus years. The Supreme Court may have given college students the right to vote where they go to college, but students are NOT ALWAYS ABLE to vote there. Some states have put up barriers to out-of-state students through their ID and residency requirements.  

Although New York in most cases does not require any voter ID at the polls, 34 states do so, with 17 states requiring photo ID. In Pennsylvania a college photo ID is sufficient while in other states it is not. In Texas a state-issued driver’s license or handgun license is accepted but not a college ID.  

Election laws can change. New Hampshire has just tightened its voter residency requirements, making it necessary for a student to register his or her car in New Hampshire and obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license. Students who want to vote at their college address should access that state’s most current requirements at www.campusvoteproject.org/ for election law and registration deadline information. “Your Right to Vote in New York State for College Students” is also available from LWVNYS at http://www.lwvny.org/advocacy/vote/RTVCollegeStudents.pdf 

In this time of student activism, those interested in a political career should strongly consider voting absentee; the residency requirement for a New York State candidate is living in the state or district for five years prior to being able to get on the ballot. But whether students decide to register and vote absentee in New York or in their college community, it is important that they learn about the issues and the candidates on their ballot, and VOTE. 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 http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

By Nancy Marr

In 1978 Suffolk County Planner Lee Koppelman suggested a trail along Long Island’s North Shore for hikers and bikers. Forty years later, as a result of the efforts of elected officials, community groups and individual citizens, funding for a trail from Mount Sinai to Wading River was approved by the Suffolk County Legislature, with plans to start construction in 2019. How do such ideas become reality in our communities?  

By the time the Setauket to Port Jefferson Greenway Trail (on 3½ miles of New York state land) was completed in 2014, its supporters had been trained in advocacy. With the Three Village Community Trust as overseer, local residents and organizations supported the trail, raised funds to supplement the state and federal grants and contributed labor to complete the trail. As the trail was being built, the civic associations, the Long Island Mountain Bicyclists and other nonprofits played a role. When they needed Department of Environmental Conservation approval to pass through the Lawrence Aviation property, they pushed to get it. 

Thus when the new Rails to Trails group needed “persons of interest” to attend official government meetings, or informed residents to speak at community meetings, skilled home-grown activists were well-established and ready to work together on this ambitious goal. But advocates also knew that they needed an engaged local elected official who could help navigate the system and secure government support. When Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) became a Suffolk County legislator in 2011, this trail became a legislative goal.

Anker got past her first roadblock when County Executive Steve Bellone (D) enthusiastically endorsed the idea of creating the trail along Route 25A. The second roadblock, property owner LIPA’s concern about liability, was removed when the county executive worked out an agreement to lease and maintain the property, creating a “linear park” that would be cared for by the Parks Department and the county police. Community opposition, however, mounted at the idea of losing privacy with strangers passing near homes along the trail. With the experienced help of Friends of the Greenway Chair Charles McAteer, county legislators organized public meetings to discuss residents’ concerns.  

When the Legislature voted on the request to bond the federal money (that will be paid back in grants) on July 17, so many supporters spoke positively that it passed with only one abstention. The federal funding that had been obtained in prior years by congressmen Felix Grucci and Tim Bishop was delayed until 2016 when Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) secured final approval of almost $10 million.  

The groundswell of support from the community and Anker’s continuing commitment will make the trail’s future secure. Working together, the legislator and the community overcame many obstacles to the establishment and funding of the trail in the past 7 years. This project serves as a strong case study for Suffolk County citizens in advocating, building community support for a grand idea, finding a legislative champion and working together to make it a reality.

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 Nancy Marr

Water is a basic need and should be considered a right. In the Earth Day Legislative Package in June, the New York State Legislature included a proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution that would ensure that clean water and air are treated as fundamental rights for all New Yorkers. The bill prioritized keeping contamination like dangerous chemicals and pesticides out of our drinking water. Unfortunately, although it passed in the Assembly, it was not passed in the Senate.

All the water for Long Islanders comes from our three underground aquifers, including the water in our bays and harbors, lakes, ponds and streams. Experts tell us that some of the water in the uppermost aquifer is no longer safe to drink. 

In the deeper aquifer (the Magothy), nitrogen and pesticides have increased by 200 percent between 1987 and 2005. Nitrogen pollution creates algal blooms in most of our bays, breeds weeds that choke lakes and ponds and threatens our fisheries and our recreation. 

The deepest and oldest of aquifers (the Lloyd) is small; water is being withdrawn from it, resulting in salt water intrusion in the Sound and Great South Bay. Although surface waters require nutrients, such as nitrogen, to support healthy ecosystems, excessive nitrogen can cause aquatic weed growth that draws oxygen from the water, producing “dead zones” where dissolved oxygen levels are so low that aquatic life cannot survive. 

To preserve its land, the five eastern towns (Southampton, East Hampton, Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island) in 1998 created a community preservation fund, paid for by a 2 percent real estate transfer tax to purchase land to provide watershed protection through open space. (Recently, out of concern with nitrogen, referenda in the eastern towns have made it possible to use up to 20 percent for nitrogen removal.)  

Nitrogen intrusion has been attributed to two factors: wastewater from cesspools and runoff from lawn and agricultural fertilizer. In 2017, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) introduced a Septic Improvement Program to replace existing cesspools and septic tanks with new systems that averaged an output of 9.2 mL of nitrogen, compared with systems that discharged anywhere from 40 to 120 mL in influent flows. To encourage homeowners to enroll in the program, the state, the county and Southampton and East Hampton offered grants and loans to cover the cost of the installation. The homeowner pays the maintenance.

The 2015-16 New York State budget appropriated funds to the Long Island Regional Planning Council (LIRPC) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in consultation with the Indian Nations, local governments and interested organizations, to create the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, or LINAP. Data, sorted by watershed, will make it possible to assess conditions and assist with prioritization. A project management team is responsible for LINAP administration and management, but local ownership and direction in its development is key. 

In addition to public education, a bill to reduce the intrusion of discarded pharmaceuticals into the water supply through the Drug Take Back Act passed in both the Assembly and the Senate and was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in early July. 

In April of 2018, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) introduced a bill to prohibit the sale of any lawn fertilizer in Suffolk and Nassau counties with more than 12 percent nitrogen, with at least half of it water insoluble. It passed in the Assembly but when introduced in the Senate by Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), it failed on the grounds that it is not certain that the nitrogen in the fertilizer is the major cause — that the 12 percent limit is arbitrary and unscientific.  

Many local coalitions and organizations are involved in the campaign to keep our waters clean. They have lobbied and raised awareness. But even more action by Suffolk County voters is needed. On Nov. 6, voters will elect New York State Assembly and Senate members. If you are concerned about the quality of our water supply, let the candidates in your districts know that nitrogen intrusion is an important issue and urge them to support measures to remove it. 

For more information, visit the websites of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Long Island Pine Barrens Society, Group for the East End, Water for Long Island and the Nature Conservancy.

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 or call 631-862-6860.

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