Authors Posts by Nancy Marr

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Microplastics. Photo by Erica Cirino

By Nancy Marr

How many plastics do you use each day  — cups, straws, food containers, water bottles, toys, shoes? How many of them could you live without? How have we become so dependent on plastics – most of which we use once and then discard? 

Beginning after World War II, the invention of items like plexiglass, impressive because of its durability, started the growth of the plastics industry. More recently, with the fossil fuel industry facing cutbacks, and with fracking reducing the price of natural gas, fossil fuel companies in the United States found they could make products from their waste, making it into things people could use. Since the 1960s, plastic production has increased by approximately 8.7% annually, evolving into a $600 billion global industry. Fossil fuel companies supported building more pipelines to make more plastic products.

Recycling was regarded as the way to dispose of the plastics, turning them into new products. In 1975, producers lobbied the United States government for more recycling programs. But recycling has not been a solution. Now, 400 million tons have accumulated over the world, most of it created within the last 15 years in the United States. Plastics degrade when they are recycled; the World Economic Forum estimates that only 2% has been effectively recycled to create new products. Burning the plastic waste to melt it releases toxic compounds and carbon. 

The public has become aware of the problems created by plastic waste. Efforts to clean the oceans where the waste has accumulated have revealed micro and nanoplastic pellets and beads, which we are also finding in cosmetics. Other countries are responding to the problem of the waste piled on their shorefronts and waterways. 

Current estimates find that oceans have 60% fish but 40% plastics. China, which received and recycled much of the plastic waste we shipped to them until 2013, passed a law refusing all shipments of waste from the United States. 

Additionally, when plastics are exposed to natural forces like sunlight and wave action, plastics will degrade into microplastics. Over time, plastic particles contaminate the marine ecosystem and the food chain, including foodstuffs intended for human consumption. In vivo studies have demonstrated that nanoplastics can translocate to all organs, affecting human health.

Plastic producers say the plastics are OK, people need them; it is what the consumer does after their use that is the problem, leaving the problem to us. Local efforts to reduce the use of plastics have had some success – cutting back on the use of plastic water bottles, for instance. But the public believes they need them, encouraged by advertising and publicity from water bottle manufacturers like the Ohio manufacturer Fiji who convincingly tells consumers that their water is safer than the public water supply. 

Environmentalists have realized that change needs to start with the manufacturers, not the consumer. Freeing the oceans from the deposits of plastics and creating plastics that are compostable or biodegradable will take strong citizen action. According to The Daily Planet, “we are seeing that public demands are clear, and they want plastic waste to be addressed.”

We need to ask the Federal Government to stop giving rebates to fossil fuel companies. The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate plastics as a pollutant under the Clean Water Act and will keep pushing for plastic pollution to be treated as the hazardous waste that it is. On a federal level, the Break Free from Plastics Act that was re-introduced recently includes a strengthened EPR policy that holds plastic producing companies accountable for their waste. It also would implement a three-year pause on issuing permits for new plastic production facilities. 

In New York State the Extended Producer Responsibility bill (S1185), co-sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Senator Todd Kaminsky, will be addressed in the Senate most likely in June. It would require producers and manufacturers to finance the disposal of their packaging materials and plastics, with incentives for finding ways of making recycling easier. The American Chemistry Council, which represents plastic producers, would put the onus on consumers to pay taxes on plastic to pay for recycling. 

Although recycling will not make the plastics go away, we should all do  what we can to reduce our personal use of plastics. Contact the legislators who have written the EPR bills, Senator Kaminsky ([email protected]) and Assemblyman Englebright ([email protected]) and your own state legislators, to tell them you support the EPR bill and reusable packaging to reduce the use of plastics.    

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 https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.

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By Nancy Marr

Climate change is the most important threat we face, as one of the three greatest threats imperiling the Earth, in addition to the loss of biodiversity and global pollution. Reducing the carbon dioxide that we release into the atmosphere into the atmosphere is critical. The mantra — reduce, reuse, recycle — has become more important as incomes rise and consumption increases, particularly in urbanizing communities where local government must find ways to deal with the waste stream. 

Leftover food is a major component of landfill waste. It has been estimated that only 40% of the food that is produced is consumed, due partly to overproduction on farms and poor distribution methods. The EPA estimates that food waste comprises about 22% of our entire waste stream.

In 2022 the Food Donation and Food Scraps/Recycling Law will take effect in New York State. It will require businesses that generate an average of two tons of excess edible food per week to donate it to food banks and charities. All remaining food scraps, if the business is within 25 miles of an organics recycler, must be recycled instead of ending up in a landfill. 

One method is feeding it to an anaerobic digester, in which microorganisms break down organic materials in a closed space where there is no air (or oxygen). The material that is left over following the anaerobic digestion process, called digestate, can be made into soil amendments and fertilizers, improving soil characteristics and facilitating plant growth. 

Biogas, which is produced throughout the anaerobic digestion process, is a renewable energy source that can be used in a variety of ways, depending on its quality. Biogas treated to meet pipeline quality standards can be distributed through the natural gas pipeline and used in homes and businesses.  However, on the controversial side of this positive energy gain, remains the fact that anaerobic digesters generate an inordinate amount of methane (CH4), an enemy in our effort to combat climate change. 

Our waste stream includes packaging materials and paper goods. Bill S1185 has been introduced by Senator Todd Kaminski and it will be followed by A5801, to be introduced by Assemblyman Steve Englebright. They require producers and manufacturers to finance the recycling of their packaging materials and plastics, with incentives for finding ways of making recycling easier. Within three years of the bill’s implementation, producers will have to comply with the provisions of the bill or work with a producer responsibility organization. 

Very good news is that agronomists have found that improved soil management can reduce the carbon that is released into the atmosphere and can increase the amount of carbon that is drawn down into the soil through photosynthesis. Led by Suffolk County Cooperative Extension, many farmers are using the methods of no-till farming, cover crops, and natural fertilizers, recognizing the importance of the biodiversity of the soil. Farming can transition from a net carbon emitter to a carbon sink.

In order to reduce the amount of methane coming from landfills, New York State passed a law in 1990 that prohibited municipalities from retaining household waste in their landfills.  (Construction and yard waste and recyclables can remain.)  

In the case of Brookhaven Town, which built a landfill in 1974 in Yaphank, the waste is currently transported to a waste-to-energy facility in Hempstead for incineration. The ash by-product is then returned to Brookhaven (along with the ash from four other  municipalities) to be deposited in the Brookhaven landfill, which will be closed in 2024.  There is a question of how that ash will be stored, recycled, or disposed of. Until we can get to zero waste that question will remain. Can we do so in a timely way? Can we do so at all?

The League of Women Voters of New York State supports policies that protect food production and distribution while diverting food waste from landfills, incinerators and other waste treatment facilities. 

One thing we already know: we will only achieve zero waste conditions when everyone participates.   Look for ways to make easy changes at home – using imperfect fruits and vegetables and organizing your pantry can help reduce waste. Plan to re-use and repair your goods, recycle, and compost your food waste.  Regenerative farming methods will improve the soil in suburban gardens and lawns as well as farms.  Let your state legislators know that you support the EPR bill to require end-of-life recycling by producers.

Nancy Marr is 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. Visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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By Nancy Marr

The United States is an outlier in family care policies. It is one of the few wealthy democracies without national provision of paid parental and sick leave. New York has established a better record at protecting working families, from the women’s Equality Agenda to the landmark paid family leave law, to this year’s statewide paid sick time law. During the pandemic, workers who need to care for themselves or a sick loved one have been protected by the family leave and sick time laws. But there is more to be done.

Child care providers across the state have closed, leaving the child care workers without jobs and asking parents to stay home to care for their children. With schools largely virtual, parents have had to use family leave time or leave their jobs to stay home with the children. Women were twice as likely as men to report leaving work due to caregiving duties; a large percentage were low-wage workers, many of whom faced discrimination or might not be eligible for family leave payments. (To be eligible they had to have worked 40 hours a week for at least 26 weeks, or 175 days for the same employer if they were part-time workers.)  

Ending this care crisis is a crucial step toward gender equality and racial justice. Workers who are themselves experiencing COVID-19 deserve the same rights. Under the Disability Benefits Law, employees are eligible for benefits of 50 percent of their average week wage but no more than the maximum benefit of $170 per week for a period of 26 weeks. The benefits cap, raised last in 1989, must be raised. 

The paid family leave act, which will reach full phase-in in 2021, must be updated to remove exceptions and ensure coverage for all private and public sector employees, including part-time domestic workers. Workers who move between jobs or face unemployment should be covered, and we should expand the definition of family to include all those whom workers consider family.  

The New York Human Rights Law should be updated to expand the prohibition on familial status discrimination to encompass all forms of caregiver discrimination. It must ensure that domestic workers, who are predominantly women of color and immigrants, can benefit from all of the law’s protections, and we should fully fund the Division of Human Rights to ensure robust enforcement.

In 2021, the New York State Department of Labor must enact strong regulations for the paid sick time rights. There needs to be outreach and education to ensure all workers know and can use their rights.

New York must also lead the way to insure that workers have meaningful access to alternative work arrangements, including telecommuting and part-time work. Workers, especially in low-wage industries, should know in advance what their schedules will be, and have a say in planning them. Worker-protective legislation on misclassification and fair pay for all New Yorkers is also needed.  

The financing of long-term services and supports for older Americans and people with disabilities has come chiefly from Medicaid and private long-term care insurance, neither of which are available to the average middle class person. 

Direct care services for the elderly or disabled, either in nursing homes or at home, are among the fastest growing jobs in the economy, but, like child care, have low pay and few protections. Women of color are the most likely to be in this cohort, and are the most likely to leave their jobs to perform uncompensated care at home. Home care, whether by an outsider or a family member, should be paid for and protected.

Funding for family leave and disability pay comes from payroll deductions from employees and employer contributions through insurances held by employers. We need to find ways to assist employers of domestic and part-time workers to comply with regulations or seek help from the Department of Labor in order to guarantee the eligibility of their workers for benefits. More information can be found at https://www.abetterbalance.org/.

Contact New York State Governor Cuomo (www.governor.ny.gov), NYS Senate Majority Leader and Temporary President Andrea Stewart-Cousins ([email protected]) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie ([email protected]) to let them know you care about worker and family rights.  

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.

By Nancy Marr

While we await the BOE’s certification of our election results (required by Dec. 7) we need to plan our priorities for the incoming NYS Legislators. Of critical importance is post-census redistricting. After the mid-2021 release of the 2020 census results, states must redraw their state and congressional district lines. These districts determine how communities are represented at the local, state and federal levels, influencing how our government works for us.

Gerrymandering (the intentional manipulation of the redistricting process by the people in political power to keep or change political power) can result from partisan redistricting in a number of ways, such as by consolidating communities into one district, or packing, which gives that community only one representative in the legislature; or by dividing the community across districts, called cracking, ensuring that the community is always the minority and less likely to be adequately represented by their representatives.

Two common forms of gerrymandering are racial gerrymandering and partisan gerrymandering. In 2018, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to set federal standards when states draw their districts that could ultimately curb partisan gerrymandering. Instead, the Court ruled to allow states to make their own determinations about partisan gerrymandering practices.

The New York State Constitution was amended in 2014 to designate an Independent Redistricting Commission to replace the legislature-controlled New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) as the entity responsible for drawing the lines. The new commission is made up of four Democratic and four Republican appointees. Two additional nonaffiliated commissioners who are not members of those parties are then selected by a majority vote of the eight politically-appointed commissioners.

Members shall represent the diversity of the residents of the state with regard to race, ethnicity, gender, language and geographic reference. They cannot have been a member of the NYS legislature or U.S. Congress, or a state-wide official, or have been a state officer or employee or legislative employee, a registered lobbyist in NYS, or a political party chairman, or the spouse of any of those mentioned. Co-executives, one from each party, direct it. A chairperson, to organize the panel, is elected by majority vote.

The legislature has recently appointed its eight members, and those eight members selected two additional nonaffiliated commissioners. The commission also recently met to hire its Co-Executive Directors and begin planning its bylaws and staffing plans

To ensure that the redistricting process is fair and doesn’t lead to racial or partisan gerrymandering, districts should contain as nearly as possible an equal number of inhabitants and shall consist of contiguous territory and be as compact in form as practicable. It should consider the maintenance of cores of existing districts, or pre-existing political subdivisions, including counties, cities and towns, and communities of interest. Data showing race, income, education, employment, and age will guide the process.

Although New York State has not passed a Voter Rights Act, it should follow the guidelines set by the federal Voter Rights Act, which targeted certain New York election districts for pre-clearance before changing election lines.

Because the date for releasing the census counts was moved from April to July 31, 2021, and June 2022 is now the first NYS primary affected, there is a shortened time frame for public review of the plan, and input of community members as the plan is made. The commission must hold 12 public hearings with proposed maps available at least 30 days prior to the first public hearing. The plan must be submitted to the legislature by Jan. 1, 2022. If it is rejected by the legislature or the governor, the commission must submit a second plan no later than Feb. 28, 2022, to be approved by the legislature and implemented by March 2022. If it is not then approved, the plan will be drawn up by the legislature, or by a court master.

The Independent Redistricting Commission can curb gerrymandering through increased public input, accountability and transparent processes. We urge the legislature to ensure that the commission follows open meetings laws and allows for ample citizen input at the twelve public hearings that are required and as the plans are drafted. The success of New York’s first independent redistricting commission hinges on whether the legislature can provide adequate support and allow sufficient independence for the newly formed maps commission. 

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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By Peggy Olness and Nancy Marr

It is said that 90% of Americans have already decided on their choice for President this year. In fact, early voting has already begun in some states (NYS starts on Oct. 24) and absentee ballots have been mailed by county Boards of Elections to those who’ve requested them. The Presidential campaigns have dominated the media for (it seems) a year, while voters barely register their interest on concerns about lower-ballot races and propositions.

All seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are voted on every two years, and Suffolk County voters are either in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd CD. Currently the Democrats have a majority of the 435 voting seats in the House. US Senators are elected for 6-year terms; in 2020 neither of our two senators is facing election. Currently the 100-member Senate has a Republican majority.

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New York State’s Senators and Assembly members are all up for election in 2020; the Governor is not. We experienced the use of executive orders for the Governor during the pandemic, but it’s up to the Legislature to codify the laws.

Both the NYS Senate and the NYS Assembly currently have Democratic majorities (historically the NYS Senate had a Republican majority) and have been able to pass a number of laws including voting reform in the past 2 years. Check your NYS Senate and Assembly races and candidates on Vote411.org.

Additionally, there are candidates for NYS Supreme Court, County Court Judges and Family Court Judges on your ballot. Most are cross-endorsed by all major parties; thus they have no opponents. Refer to Vote411.org to find the Judicial candidates on your ballot.

In addition to the races, party lines and candidates, every Suffolk County voter will have 2 resolutions on the reverse/back of your ballot. (Town of Riverhead voters will have a third resolution relating to their Town government). Each resolution statement is written as a question, and you have a choice to vote YES or NO.

The League of Women Voters of Suffolk County is not supporting or opposing any resolution, but will clarify the pros and cons or issues relating to each proposition.

PROP 1: for all Suffolk County voters

Shall Resolution No. 442-2020, adopting a charter law to change the legislative term of office for County legislators from two (2) years to four (4) years be approved?

Details:

The twelve-year term limit for legislators would remain in effect notwithstanding any change in the legislative term of office. If approved by voters, the four-year term of office would begin Jan. 1, 2022 (affecting all 18 Legislators elected on the November 2021 ballot.)

Pros:

■ All other Suffolk County elected officials serve four-year terms.

■ Allows more time for legislators to see projects come to fruition.

■ Frequent periods of campaigning for office and fundraising take time away from legislative issues.

Cons:

■ Frequent elections help to keep legislators accountable.

■ Frequent elections require candidates to hear from citizens more often.

PROP 2: for all Suffolk County voters

Shall Resolution No. 547-2020, adopting a charter law to transfer excess funds in the Sewer Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund to the Suffolk County Taxpayer Trust Fund and to eliminate the requirement that interfund transfers be made from the General Fund to the Sewer Assessment Stabilization Fund be approved?

Purpose of Resolution 547-2020:

This resolution proposes that funds from the Sewer Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund (ASRF) be made available to pay county operating expenses. In 1987, county voters passed a quarter cent sales tax to fund the Drinking Water Protection Program (DWPP). The funds have been used for land acquisition, maintenance of water quality and the sewer districts, including current efforts to fund septic systems that can remove nitrogen from waste water. The ASRF Fund 404, which receives 25% of the DWPP tax revenue, was created within the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program to protect taxpayers in sewer districts where there is an increase in costs of more than 3%.

The ASRF ended 2019 with a balance of 35 million dollars.  The resolution proposes a Suffolk County Taxpayers Trust Fund be created to receive 15 million dollars of the unspent balance, as well as any other sum that may be transferred to the Trust Fund to balance the county’s operating budget.   

The resolution also proposes that a debt of $144,719 million, borrowed from the DWPP since 2011, be canceled so that the funds that are released can be placed in the Trust Fund for use by the county for its operating budget, if so passed by the legislature.

Background:

In September 2020, the New York State Comptroller listed Suffolk County as one of the eight NYS municipalities in significant fiscal stress, stating “since the pandemic hit, local governments have seen a massive drop in sales tax collections. This is hurting their bottom lines and many have few options to plug the hole.” Rather than borrow from other sources that impose interest charges, the county borrowed from the DWPP with the requirement that it pay the amount borrowed back once revenue sources rebounded.

In 2018, 2019, and 2020 the county paid back a total of $26,581 million, leaving $144,719 million outstanding. The County Executive points out that Suffolk has satisfied some of its obligations by already spending $29.4 million for water quality and land acquisition projects, as agreed to in a 2014 settlement, in which he agreed to repayment by 2029.

There is concern that the intent and result of the resolution becoming law, although it deals with a complex issue, is not clearly phrased to the voter. The resolution is contrary to two court decisions. In the Levy lawsuit in 2011 and the settlement by the County Executive in 2014, the county has been ordered to repay the monies borrowed from a fund dedicated to drinking water protection. 

Visit the LWVSC website resources page at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county/resources to learn more about Suffolk County finances, the actual legislation behind the propositions and more details on Proposition 2.

Peggy Olness is a board member and 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.

Suffolk County police car. File photo

By Nancy Marr

In 2009, the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) was investigated by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) after the death of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian national murdered by teenagers in Patchogue. The SCPD cooperated with the DOJ investigation and signed an agreement that the SCPD would ensure that it would police equitably, respectfully and free of unlawful bias. It agreed to maintain a true Community Oriented Police Enforcement program through the County, and strengthen outreach efforts in the Latino communities.

Gov. Cuomo’s June 12 statewide Executive Order states that all police agencies must “develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment, including, but not limited to use of force.” Police forces must adopt a plan by April 1, 2021 to be eligible for future state funding and certify that they have:

• Engaged stakeholders in a public and open process on policing strategies and tools;

• Presented a plan by chief executive and head of the local police force to the public for comment;

• After consideration of any comments, presented such plan to the local legislative body (council or legislature as appropriate) which has approved such plan (by either local law or resolution); and

• If such local government does not certify the plan, the police force may not be eligible to receive future state funding.

Governor Cuomo said, “Our law enforcement officers are essential to ensuring public safety — they literally put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect us. This emergency regulation will help rebuild that confidence and restore trust between police and the communities they serve by requiring localities to develop a new plan for policing in the community based on fact-finding and meaningful community input.”

The Suffolk County plan development will be conducted by Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Sheriff Errol Toulon, and will consist of stakeholders from all sectors of the county, seeking to address any racial bias, use of force, negligence and sensitivity, and about incidents where the police have reacted differently when treating minorities.

Recent review of police conduct show that the police are often tasked to deal with issues of mental health, homelessness and addiction as often as crime prevention or property protection. Many communities have developed programs to respond with mental health workers, either before or with the police. Since 1989, in Eugene Oregon, a mobile crisis intervention team (Cahoots) responds to calls involving people who may be in mental distress. Police back-up is called in only when necessary. Examples of programs are numerous, but each jurisdiction has its own data, issues and challenges.

Open meetings and providing information to the public through the media will be needed to engage community members in the process. It is a chance for the community to get a fuller understanding of how a police and community relationship based on trust, fairness, accountability and transparency, necessary to reduce any racial disparities in policing is truly possible.

Suffolk County’s success will depend on the commitment of County Executive Steve Bellone to promptly and transparently communicate his support, and not interfere in the forums while listening to the concerns and passions of stakeholders. Nassau County already has announced the beginning of their process, while all is quiet in Suffolk County.

Engaging representatives of groups with different perspectives and experiences, in a facilitated non-judgmental setting, is a step toward creating a community that treats everyone fairly.  Please reach out to our County Executive and your County Legislator to support a process that engages participants through the county in a fair and honest evaluation of police practices, and envisions new ways of approaching community safety and social justice. Time is of the essence!

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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By Nancy Marr

The year 2020 in New York State began with excitement about voting access and modernization. Governor Cuomo had signed the bill for 9 days of early voting in November 2019 and New York voters embraced it.

We synchronized federal, state and local primary elections to reduce costs and encourage greater turnout. Young people can pre-register at ages sixteen and seventeen with automatic registration when they turn eighteen. Voters who move within the state will have their registration go with them seamlessly. We also closed the LLC Loophole, meaning that an LLC’s political spending was limited to the same amount allowed to corporations, $5,000 annually. We expected to see the fruit of these efforts this year.

Then, starting in March, we saw the threat of the pandemic on voter safety. After declaring a state of emergency, Gov. Cuomo ordered the presidential primaries postponed from April 28 to June 23 (already the date of state and local primaries) and then ordered Boards of Elections to send Absentee Ballot (AB) applications to all voters in New York State eligible to vote in a primary.

There was great confusion since some voters had already mailed individual AB applications, and those were different from the mass-mailed applications. The NYS Board of Elections announced cancellation of the Democratic presidential primary due to pandemic fears. Then a court declared that cancellation invalid, and the primary was back on. This caused the absentee ballots to be on two pages (presidential on one, other offices on another page) resulting in some  eligible voters not receiving both ballot pages.

A huge number of people in Suffolk County applied for Absentee Ballots (more than double the in-person number of voters) and counting mailed in ballots could only begin on July 1 and was expected to end on July 9. Our media didn’t help either; readers were told which candidates were “leading” after the relatively small number of in-person votes were counted on election night (in CD1’s Democratic primary, about 15,000).

As if that amount of confusion couldn’t be any worse, due to the virus a very large number of poll workers chose not to work on election day, regular polling sites refused to be hosts and the Suffolk Board of Elections reduced the actual number of polling places on June 23 by almost two-thirds.

Letters were mailed to voters just before election day, but chaos resulted, including removing neighborhood polling places in communities where transportation was a challenge as well as communities of color. Signage was poor or non-existent in new locations and many places were hard to find. 

Voters in New York State have traditionally felt that although we had antiquated aspects to our elections (no early voting, no “no excuse” absentee ballots, no same-day voter registration, and terrible voter turnout) we were in pretty good shape compared to other states that were suppressing the vote. Our blinders have now been removed and much work needs to be done, quickly and thoughtfully, in order to assure a fair, secure, auditable, inclusive and clear process on Nov. 3.

Your voice counts as much as your vote. The New York State Legislature has already closed its session, but the Governor can bring them back. We need money allocated to the Boards of Elections to ensure the Nov. 3 elections are perceived by all voters as valid and reflective of all those who voted.

Study media writeups of the June 23 results during July, learn from them, and in the fall help spread nonpartisan communication about the process. The League of Women Voters’ voter information website, www.VOTE411.org. is a great starting point to see if a voter is registered, learn who is on their ballot, and understand election law and changes in their state.

Threats to the viability of the United State Postal Service will be an issue if the November election is deemed not safe enough for in-person voting. Congress must act immediately to fix the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) which required the USPS to create a $72 billion fund to pay for the cost of its post-retirement health care costs, 75 years into the future. This burden applies to no other federal agency or private corporation.

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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By Nancy Marr

Because of New York State’s identity as the current U.S. “Epicenter” of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 7 issued Executive Order 2020, declaring a State disaster for the State of New York, which gives him the power to modify any statute, local law, ordinance, order, rule or regulation if necessary to assist or aid in coping with such disaster. 

An Executive Order, issued on April 24, requires that every voter who is in active or inactive status and is eligible to vote in the primary elections on June 23 shall be sent an absentee ballot application with a postage paid return option.  

Earlier, Gov. Cuomo had announced that he was cancelling the April 28 presidential primary and postponing it to June 23. Then on April 27 the NYS Board of Elections (BOE) canceled the June 23 presidential primary amid pandemic concerns, which means that Bernie Sanders will not  appear on the ballot in the state and Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee, will get all the 274 pledged delegates. 

Gov. Cuomo had added a provision to the state budget earlier this month that allowed the BOE to remove candidates from the ballot if they had dropped out of the race; if Biden were the only nominee left, the BOE could then cancel the election. 

The election on June 23, 2020, thus will combine the state and congressional primaries (the special elections that were scheduled for June 23 will be postponed to the General Election on Nov. 3, 2020). In order to vote in a primary, you must have registered in the party holding the election by Feb. 14, 2020. To be sure that you are registered in a party, visit www.voterlookup.elections.ny.gov. To find out which primary candidates will be on your ballot, check www.Vote411.org.  

Be sure to exercise your right to vote. When you receive the absentee ballot application (mailed if you are eligible to vote on June 23), complete it, checking the box for “temporary illness or disability,“ and return it in the postage paid envelope provided. 

If you do not receive the application, and believe you are eligible to vote in the election, contact the BOE, but you can also obtain an application from your local post office, or go to the BOE website  https://suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/BOE to find an application that you can complete, copy, and return by mail or email. (The Governor has waived the requirement for a signature for this election.) 

When the ballots are finalized, one will be mailed to each voter who has returned an application and is eligible to vote in a primary on June 23. Your completed ballot must be returned in the envelope provided no later than the close of polls on June 23 or postmarked no later than the day before the election.

Regarding future mail-in voting by absentee ballot: The New York State Legislature during the 2019 session passed legislation to remove the specific conditions needed for an absentee ballot. This no-excuse absentee ballot would make it easier to vote. Since it would be a constitutional change, however, it must be passed again by the next legislative session, and then submitted to the electorate in a referendum in 2021. If it passes, it will make permanent the no-excuse absentee ballot that Gov. Cuomo has provided temporarily.  

Separately, State Senator Biaggi and Assemblymember Jacobson introduced a bill this year to amend the election law to define “illness” as ”the spread or potential spread of any communicable disease, at a time of declaration of a state of emergency …” This is still in committee, but, if passed, would make it possible to vote by absentee ballot in all elections held in the future during a state of emergency. Stay safe; make your voice heard.

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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By Nancy Marr

When Newsday published its account of racial discrimination in housing last December, people were sad to read it but most said it was not a surprise. 

By documenting it with the results of 25 testers we are forced to look for explanations and then for solutions. Racial attitudes from the past were carried over by the federal government; it advocated racially restrictive covenants on deeds to prevent homes from being occupied by African Americans, Jews and other minorities. 

The Federal Housing Administration’s manual in 1936 stated that deed restrictions should prohibit occupancy of homes “except by the race for which they are intended” lest “incompatible racial elements“ would cause housing values to fall. In 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race-restrictive covenants were not enforceable, but the practice remained. The 1968 Fair Housing Act signed by President Johnson finally made racial discrimination illegal. 

Blatant discrimination began to give way to steering; black house hunters were shown homes only in minority or integrated areas while whites were shown houses in overwhelmingly white areas. As people of color began to buy homes in mostly white areas, block busting by real estate brokers took advantage of the situation by scaring white homeowners into selling their homes at lowered prices. 

The U.S. Justice Department ruled racial steering illegal under the Fair Housing Act and both state and federal governments launched efforts to investigate and curtail steering and block busting. Local agencies like the Human Rights Commission and Suffolk Housing Services have been able to bring cases of discrimination and steering to court with some success.

And yet the testers in the current study showed that significant proportions of homebuyers of color were not shown homes in areas with better schools or primarily white populations, but African Americans, Latinos, and Asians were shown homes in areas that the testers told white homebuyers they would not want to live in. 

It is significant that the salespeople chose to match their prospective buyers with the schools in the districts they were shown. They knew that white buyers would want to live in the areas with the best schools that they could afford. They showed the buyers of color homes in areas with poorer schools, even though they too wanted to live in the areas with the best schools they could afford. 

The Newsday article was followed by County Executive Bellone’s announcement that a testing program will be launched by Suffolk County. New York State has already started trainings for the real estate industry with strict enforcement of the rules that should guide them.  

But can the solution rest with enforcement of civil rights laws? At the LIVE Newsday event, panels of experts discussed the article on discrimination and filled in some of the spaces. The method of funding schools in New York State, if not changed, will continue to create  competition for funds between “good” areas and “bad” ones.  Deep seated public prejudices and fear of changes that might affect home values often influence real estate brokers, who can play a role in re-educating the public about housing discrimination but who are not insensitive to the attitudes of their clients. 

How can we, as the community, change our attitudes? Can community planners in towns and villages find ways to include all segments of the community to find solutions? The Village of Patchogue worked with the Long Island Housing Partnership to build workforce housing priced for families with lower incomes, chosen by a lottery. Located near the railroad station, it has brought together a diverse group of younger families and stimulated the building of other housing downtown. The entrepreneurship of  Latinos in Patchogue has supported the growth of the business district. 

Other sustainable developments throughout Suffolk County are redeveloping vacant malls and stores to build affordable and workforce housing, overcoming the shortage of available land and finding ways around the need for sewers. The L. I. Housing Partnership has formed a land trust to acquire and own the land that it leases to homeowners, reducing the cost of homeownership.  Vision Long Island’s website VisionLongIsland.org gives examples of development projects that address issues of diversity. 

Make your voice heard. Let your county, town and village representatives know that you want all neighborhoods to welcome housing for a diversity of people in thriving communities. 

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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By Nancy Marr

Each Election Day we have the opportunity to vote for the candidates we think are best for our communities.

This Nov. 5, candidates will be on the ballot for positions as Suffolk County executive and legislators in each of the 18 county legislative districts. The county executive manages and supervises the county’s departments and agencies, establishing the efficiency and effectiveness of county government — setting policy, standards, goals and objectives and hiring and evaluating the performance of county management personnel.

As manager of the county finances, the county executive creates and presents an annual budget to the Legislature. He or she represents the county at meetings, forums and intergovernmental relations with other levels of government. To learn more about the county executive, call to make an appointment with a staff member to discuss an issue of concern to you and ask what the executive can do about it.

The Suffolk County Legislature consists of 18 legislative districts, each of which elects a representative every two years. (Every 10 years, after each census is tallied, the districts are redrawn according to the redistribution of the population.) The Legislature is the elected body responsible for public health and public safety. Its presiding officer appoints the members and chairs of committees.

There are currently 12 committees, each one dealing with a different subject – health, economic development, transportation, etc. The members, schedule and agendas for meetings of the Legislature are on the county website at www.scnylegislature.us/. Committee meetings are held the week before the general meetings, and the public may attend and address the committee. A call to the chairperson of the committee you wish to visit may open up a line of communication.

When a bill is proposed, it is assigned to a committee which brings in experts to inform committee members, listens to testimony from concerned citizens and votes on it. If a bill is passed through the committee, it will move to the agenda of the next general meeting for consideration by the full Legislature.

Both the Suffolk County executive and the 18 Suffolk County legislator positions are term-limited. Each can serve up to 12 years (three 4-year terms for the county executive, and six 2-year terms for the legislators). Consult the League of Women Voter’s Directory of Public Officials at www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/files/2019DPO_web_6-23-19.pdf for information on the 2019 officeholders and their contact details.

How can you know whether the incumbent represents your point of view about a particular issue? Attend any meetings where it will be discussed or listen to the streaming of the meetings on your phone or computer.

Each meeting, held in either Hauppauge or Riverhead, includes a Public Portion, when members of the public may make statements to the legislators about any of their concerns. (They may not answer questions asked by constituents at the meeting but can be reached at their office if you wish to speak with them.) What can we find out about the opposing candidates? Information from news articles, debates held by civic organizations, events where the candidates will be meeting voters and websites such as www.vote411.org/ are ways to learn more about all candidates.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, recognizing how hard it is to hold public officials accountable, has scheduled training sessions open to the public from 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 1 at the Deer Park Public Library, Oct. 3 at the Patchogue-Medford Library, Oct. 8 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, and Oct. 9 at Middle Country Public Library in Centereach. Call 631-650-2301 or email [email protected] for more information or to register.

The election is but one step in the process. Our job continues with the candidate who has won. We can continue to speak at the Legislature and committee meetings, and at meetings with the legislator and/or staff to work toward action. Gathering others who share and support your concerns will strengthen your efforts to create positive change.

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.