Making Democracy Work

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By Lisa Scott

The League of Women Voters encourages informed and active participation in government and thus prioritizes voter registration and getting out the vote. 

The 2020 elections had a record shattering turnout —  158,254,139 ballots were cast for President from 66.7% of eligible voters. Does this mean that we have achieved our goals or can look forward to even greater election participation and thus more representative government in the coming years? The answer is definitely no! Here’s why …

Many Americans believe that voting rights and laws are derived from the Constitution and federal law. That’s only partially true and mostly just for federal elections. Voters’ lives are much more affected by state election law, which as was seen in the 2020 election results. Add our (decennial) census and the absolute power (in most states) of the state legislature to “reapportion” Congressional and other district lines. You now have a recipe for institutional power monopolies; reducing the ability for voters to actually select their representatives (the elected officials choose their voters = gerrymandering) in free and fair elections. Many state legislatures have already introduced hundreds of new voter suppression laws aimed at decreasing voter turnout.

As residents of New York State, many of us were shocked to learn that our state voting laws and constitution are an anachronistic embarrassment. Other states had pioneered and proved the value and reliability and security of 100% mail-in voting, many days of early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots. In 2019 New Yorkers had our first early voting opportunities in a local election year with sparse turnout. 

Only a few months later, COVID lockdowns and quarantines changed everything. Governor Cuomo issued a state of emergency allowing him to issue many executive orders, some of which liberalized our election laws and processes. However, these need to be enacted as state law in order to be made permanent.

The Senate met in January to pass a package of absentee voting reforms and two constitutional amendments related to voting: 

Speeding Up the Absentee Ballot Counting Process: This bill, S.1027, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Senator Michael Gianaris, amends various provisions of the Election Law in order to allow for expedited review and canvassing of absentee ballots without compromising the integrity of elections.

Preventing Disenfranchisement of Absentee Voters: This bill, S.253, sponsored by Senate Elections Committee Chair, Senator Zellnor Myrie, prohibits voiding absentee ballots on technicalities where intent of voters is clear and the law has been substantially complied with, including where there are stray marks or the ballot is undated but is time stamped by the Board of Elections.

Permanently Authorizing Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes: This bill, S.492, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman, authorizes the Board of Elections to establish absentee ballot drop-off locations or drop-boxes to provide voters with a convenient and secure option for delivering their absentee ballots.

Increasing Transparency and Information about Absentee Ballots through a Tracking System: This bill, S.1028, sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie, ensures that all voters in the state have access to absentee ballot tracking by requiring the New York State Board of Elections to create a statewide absentee ballot tracking system for absentee voters to ensure that their vote is counted in the election while allowing counties and the New York City Board of Elections to also maintain their own absentee tracking systems.

Implementing Permanent Authorization for Applying for Absentee Ballots Online: This bill, S.632, sponsored by Senator Robert Jackson, permanently allows voters to apply for absentee ballots online and allows absentee ballots postmarked through Election Day by making permanent Chapter 91 of the Laws of 2020, which sunset on December 31, 2020. Under current Election Law, applications may only be made by mail or fax.

Creating Accountability for Timely Receipt of Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.516, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, establishes mandatory timeframes for processing of absentee ballot applications and ballots by Boards of Elections based on when the application was received.

Enabling Earlier Applications for Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.631, sponsored by Senator Julia Salazar, permits Boards of Elections to receive absentee ballot applications earlier than thirty days before the applicable Election Day by making permanent Chapter 138 of the Laws of 2020, which sunset on December 31, 2020.

Ensuring Voters Timely Receipt of Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.264, sponsored by Senator Zellnor Myrie, sets deadline for absentee ballot applications sent by mail to 15 days before the election, up from 7 days, to better allow for voters timely receiving their absentee ballots.

No-Excuse Absentee Voting Constitutional Amendment: This legislation, S.360, sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie, amends the State Constitution to allow for any voter to vote by absentee without an excuse.*

Same-day Voter Registration Constitutional Amendment: This legislation, S.517, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, removes 10 day deadline to submit registration.*

*Both constitutional amendments were passed by the Senate and Assembly in the last session but are also required to be passed by both houses during this session. If they are passed again they will be placed on the ballot in November as voter referendums.

At this time we are unsure when the Assembly will be taking up these reforms. In the last three legislative sessions, the Senate has made election reform one of their early priority issues. The Assembly typically does not take up these bills until after the state budget has passed. (Note: Gov. Cuomo submitted the budget in late January, the 2021 fiscal year starts April 1.)

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.

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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.

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By Lisa Scott

Every state has its own election laws. New York State’s laws have been more restrictive than many others, although progress has been made in the past few years. In-person early voting commenced in 2019 and absentee ballot eligibility expanded in 2020 to anyone who has concerns due to COVID-19. We now have electronic (iPad-style) poll books and during early voting customized ballots for each voter are printed.

Your vote will count in November if you educate yourself, develop a voting plan with others if possible, and plan ahead. Waiting until the last minute, particularly with an absentee ballot, increases the odds of your missing deadlines or making a paperwork mistake with no time for correction.

Fortunately, in New York State you have several options for casting your ballot: Absentee Ballots, Early Voting, and Election Day Voting. Follow the steps below, and call the Suffolk County Board of Elections (SCBOE) at 631-852-4500 or, if you have a simple question, call the League of Women Voters (LWV) at 631-862-6860. The LWV is non-partisan, not affiliated with the Board of Elections and cannot give you election advice.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered all Boards of Elections in NYS to mail a letter to all households with registered voters in early September. The letter will give polling place information, details for early voting, and an explanation of the absentee ballot process for the November elections.

Voter Registration

You must be registered in order to vote. You may register if you will be 18 years of age by Election Day, a resident of the county for at least 30 days prior to the election, and a citizen of the United States. 16 and 17 year-olds can now pre-register to vote, but will not be able to vote until they are 18. You may only vote in one state. If you have moved within the state since the last time you voted, you will be able to vote via affidavit ballot in your new election district, but re-registering with your new address before Oct. 9 is advisable.

Registration forms are available at the Board of Elections, post offices and libraries. Online voter registration is possible via the DMV website if you are already in their website. You can call 1-800-FOR-VOTE hotline to request a voter application. You can download and print a form from the New York State Board of Elections (NYSBOE) homepage link Need a Voter Registration Form. The deadline to register is Oct. 9. (If mailed your registration form must be postmarked by that date.) The registration form includes a place where you can also immediately request an absentee ballot.

Absentee Ballot Voting

Unlike June primary voting: Absentee ballot applications will not automatically be sent to everyone – you must apply for one! The deadline to apply is October 27 – DO NOT WAIT – You may apply NOW.

The fastest, simplest, method is online! NYSBOE has introduced an online form at absenteeballot.elections.ny.gov. You only need to enter your county, name, date of birth and zip code. Within seconds you will receive a printable absentee ballot confirmation and number.

You may also email, fax or telephone your request for an absentee ballot to the SCBOE. Details are at https://suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/BOE/Absentee-Voting-FAQ.  When you receive your ballot follow all instructions.

Fill it out, sign and enclose the oath envelope, apply postage and mail as soon as you can. You may also (in person, or via a friend or relative) bring the SEALED ballot to the SCBOE in Yaphank or to any  Suffolk early voting site during open hours, or to your polling place on November 3.

The BOE must now send a letter to the voter within 24 hours of receipt of an absentee ballot with a problem (e.g. no signature). You should send your ballot in early so that, the BOE would have time to alert you of a problem and you would be able to correct the issue before deadlines.

The Board of Elections will start mailing out absentee ballots Sept. 18. This cannot be done until the candidate list is certified. After you’ve submitted your absentee ballot, you can call the SCBOE to confirm your ballot was received. If you had requested an absentee ballot due to COVID-19 in June, you still MUST reapply for November 2020. NYS absentee ballot application rules for 2021 have not yet been determined.

In New York State, unlike most other states, you can still vote in person even if you voted on an absentee ballot. The absentee ballot will be discarded by the BOE if you’ve already voted in person. Absentee ballots will be counted beginning 48 hours after Election Day. Absentee ballot voter names will be checked against the electronic poll book before being processed.

Early Voting

There are 12 Early Voting sites in Suffolk County. Registered Suffolk County voters may vote at ANY of the 12 sites during the Early Voting period. This is possible because of the new electronic poll books, and ballots that are printed on demand for each voter. All NYS counties have the same 9 early voting dates (Sat. Oct. 24  to Sun. Nov. 1), but times each day vary. No one can vote in person on Nov. 2.

To vote on Election Day in person

Polls are open on Nov. 3 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Suffolk County. Look up your voter registration and polling place online to reconfirm all is in order. You can do that via the NYSBOE homepage link Find Out if you are Registered and Where to Vote.

The best on-line sources of information are VOTE411.org (select your state and you can register to vote, find your polling place, see what’s on your ballot and learn about the candidates) and the New York State Board of Elections at elections.ny.gov.

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.

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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.

Virginia Case

By Lisa Scott

COVID-19. Economic Meltdown. Social Justice Demonstrations. BlackLivesMatter. Shutdowns. Social Distancing. Active Military in our Cities. Misinformation. Local Budget Meltdowns. Post Office Survival. Malign Foreign Influences. Interruption of Census Reporting. Voter Suppression. And just this week, Voting Chaos exemplified in Georgia. Shall we continue listing 2020’s norm-shattering events and trends? Or do we instead renew our commitment to making American democracy work in this all-important election year?

As New York State voters, we’ve been through the worst of the pandemic, and yet also are experiencing an extraordinary amount of communication and action from our governor, Andrew Cuomo. The flurry of executive orders, daily briefings and critiques seem overwhelming, yet in a time of irresponsible misinformation it is vital for all our citizens to be spoken to as responsible and intelligent adults.

This far 2020 has been a “voting year” for the record book in New York. Starting in mid-March, village elections were postponed, special elections were delayed, a presidential primary was postponed, school board and budget elections were delayed, the presidential primary was rescheduled, cancelled, reinstated by the courts and now will be held several days after Mr. Biden has clinched the Democratic presidential nomination. Congressional and New York State Senate and Assembly primaries will be held as scheduled, but the special elections (to fill vacant lawmaker seats) will now have to wait until the November general election.

For the first time ever, the governor has ordered school districts to mail absentee ballots to every eligible voter in New York State, and to cancel all in-person voting. This presented huge challenges, and individual districts performed as best they could … but clearly need more lead time, transparency, money and much improved communication. 

From very low voter turnout in all past years, school districts in 2020 expect huge numbers of ballots to be returned, and worry about voters rejecting budgets because this is one of the few ways voters can directly comment on their economic distress. But remember, school, village and special district elections are not covered by the same election law rules as what we consider primary or general elections run by county boards of election. 

By 9 p.m. on June 23, voters will have cast votes in the Presidential, Congressional, NYS Senate and NYS Assembly primaries. A vast number of those votes will have been done via absentee ballots, forcing boards of elections to purchase new high-speed absentee ballot counters and incur significant costs for prepaid/postage to apply for and mail the ballot. (Absentee ballots must be postmarked by June 23 to be counted.) 

There will be early voting sites open from June 13 to 21 with varying hours for those who wish to vote in person, and the usual 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. hours on election day itself — Tuesday, June 23. If a person had received an absentee ballot but decided instead to vote in person, the Board of Elections counts the in-person voting first, and when the absentee ballot from the same voter is recorded, it will not be considered a valid vote and put aside. 

How will you know who is on your ballot in 2020, and what each candidate stands for? The League of Women Voter’s ballot information website, VOTE411.org, should be your go-to site. Information is usually available about four  weeks before a primary or general election. LWV candidate debates are still being held, albeit virtually via Zoom and available on YouTube.

Our LWVUS CEO, Virginia Kase, recently wrote from Washington, D.C. …

“If you are like me, you might have commented from time to time that 2020 feels like the worst year ever. It’s been rough. Many of us are just entering Phase 1 of our states’ reopening plans. We’ve seen challenges to our democracy, a global pandemic, and more black lives lost because of the color of their skin. It’s hard not to feel hopeless. But what if 2020 is actually a turning point?

Yes, America is going through some very difficult labor pains right now, but I believe that our democracy can be reborn. I believe that now, more than ever, we have the power to change our country and our society for the better. Right now, there is an awakening the likes of which I’ve never seen in my life, and I am, for the first time in a long time, hopeful.

Being democracy defenders means standing up to injustice with all our power: the power of our voices, the power of our resources, and the power of our votes. That is how we continue the push for a more perfect democracy.”

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 [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.

Dr. Anthony Fauci

By Peggy Olness

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts” said our NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. This simple but important statement has re-emerged in this unusual era as a call for truth, and can sometimes be the difference between life and death. Being informed is every citizen’s responsibility, whether making sense of a cacophony of voices during a pandemic or ultimately choosing leaders on election day. Use this time of enforced and prudent social distancing to educate yourself on how to separate fact from opinion and fiction. 

Over 100 doctors and nurses serving on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic recently sent a letter to the largest social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Google, & YouTube, warning that misleading information about COVID-19 is threatening lives. The letter called on these organizations to more aggressively monitor the posting of medical misinformation appearing on their websites.

Misinformation about COVID-19 includes unfounded claims and conspiracy theories about the virus originating as biological weapon development and being deliberately spread by various groups or countries. Even more dangerous have been the unsubstantiated claims for “sure cures” that involve certain types of therapies or treatments with substances, many of which are poisonous or which must be monitored by a medical professional. There have been documented instances of people dying or suffering serious harm as a result of following this misinformed advice.

For COVID-19 information dependable places to start are the websites of the CDC and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was created by Congress in 1946 to focus on infectious disease and food borne pathogens. It functions under the US Public Health Service (PHS) to provide leadership and assistance for epidemics, disasters and general public health services. It is responsible for the Strategic National Stockpile, a stockpile of drugs, vaccines, and other medical products and supplies to provide for the emergency health security of the US & its territories.

Also under the PHS are the National Institutes for Health (NIH), responsible for basic and applied research for biomedical and public health, founded in the 1880’s to investigate the causes of malaria, cholera and yellow fever epidemics. A subagency, of the NIH, the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID), is the lead agency studying the nature of the coronavirus and its treatment and prevention. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, M.D, NIAID Director since 1984, has helped NIAID lead the US through a number of crises including HIV-AIDS, Ebola, West Nile Virus, SARS, H1N1 flu, MERS-CoV, Zika and COVID-19. Dr Fauci has been trying to communicate the facts his agency has discovered about coronavirus and COVID-19. Scientists are seekers of findings that can be replicated, and their research is constantly being updated, revised, communicated, and it is collaborative and open. 

Misinformation and rumor have always been a part of society, and the children’s game of “Telephone” has been used for generations to show how factual information can become changed or distorted when it is passed down a line of people. So what can we do about it? Before making decisions about action, be sure that the information and sources that are guiding you are reliable and trusted. During this COVID-19 crisis, actions taken by those around you can have negative consequences. Remember to use social media with an emphasis on “social;” your source for facts and your basis for decisions should be well-documented media/journalism and peer-reviewed science. Be sure, as President Reagan advised, you have trusted but also verified.  

The Suffolk Cooperative Library System, with the assistance of the Suffolk County League of Women Voters and building on the work of the Westchester LWV, has produced a 10 minute professional development video: “INFODEMIC 101: Inoculating Against Coronavirus Misinformation” which can be found on the Livebrary YouTube channel https://youtu.be/7qmy3FaCjHU

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

Stock photo

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.