Making Democracy Work

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.

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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.

For the first time, you can choose to complete the U.S. Census online, by phone, or by mail. Stock photo

By Lisa Scott

Covid-19 is affecting every aspect of our lives. Businesses are being told to reduce staffing or if deemed “non-essential” to shutter altogether; unemployment claims are soaring; individuals are being urged to practice “social distancing” or simply stay home if possible; parents are experiencing a growing concern about their children’s education as school closings seem indefinite; necessary medical resources remain in short supply; and the most vulnerable among us — the homeless — are reaching new levels of despair and hopelessness. 

However, even though we are told that the situation “will get worse before it gets better,” it is vitally important that we focus on planning ahead for both our personal well-being and that of our communities.

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Lost in the relentless bad news is the immediate AND long term importance of our decennial Census. The 2020 Census will determine congressional representation, inform hundreds of billions in federal funding every year, and provide data that will impact communities for the next decade. Each one of us should educate ourselves, prioritize our response, and support efforts to ensure that ALL members of our communities are aware and participating in the Census. 

According to the New York Times, “Even at its smoothest, the decennial census is among the most sprawling and complicated exercises in American society, mandated by the Constitution to count every person in the nation, whether in homes, prisons or under freeway viaducts; whether citizens or undocumented immigrants in hiding. The 2020 census already was destined to be an even more daunting venture — the first ever conducted mostly online, in a deeply polarized nation where mistrust of the government and immigrants fearful of authorities could make an accurate count harder than in recent memory.”

A few basics: You should have already received the census invitation in the mail. You can easily complete the survey via online, telephone or USPS mail, whether or not you received the invitation. Visit https://2020census.gov/en/ways-to-respond.html for a clear explanation of this part of the process and to submit your response. Telephone responses are encouraged at 844-330-2020 (English) and 12 languages are also supported (these phone numbers are on the website).

The Census period runs from mid-March until late August. You will receive several reminders if you haven’t responded, including a paper questionnaire in early April and a follow up in person. 

All 2020 Census responses are kept confidential and private. Under Title 13 of the U.S. code, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. Your responses cannot be shared and cannot be used against you by any government agency or court in any way. The answers you provide are used only to produce statistics. You are kept anonymous.

Many consider the Census an invasion of our privacy or worse, thus ALL of us should more clearly understand the representation and resource allocation impact if we don’t complete the survey. In 2017 the Census Bureau examined the 2015 distribution of funds based on the 2010 Census, and included those federal programs using Census Bureau data to distribute funds in one of three ways: selection and/or restriction of recipients of funds, award or allocation of funds and monitoring and assessment of program performance. 

The 2017 study https://2020census.gov/content/dam/2020census/materials/partners/2020-01/Uses-of-Census-Bureau-Data-in-Federal-Funds-Distribution.pdf found more than $675 billion thus distributed, up from more than $400 billion in a 2009 study. The 2020 could have nearly $1 trillion at stake, and our communities will suffer if our negligence denies us our “fair share.”

The U.S. Constitution mandates that the country count its population once every 10 years. The results are used to adjust or redraw electoral districts, based on where populations have increased or decreased. State legislatures or independent bipartisan commissions are responsible for redrawing congressional districts. 

By April 1 of the year following the decennial census, the Secretary of Commerce is required to furnish the state officials or their designees with population counts for American Indian areas, counties, cities, census blocks, and state-specified congressional, legislative, and voting districts. Thus, in mid 2021, our New York State Legislature will receive the data from which they will redistrict and redraw lines. Our number of Congressional seats will also be reflected; it is expected that New York State may lose a seat because of uncounted populations. 

We ALL need to complete the census — our representation and our share of federal and state resources are at stake!

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

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 Lisa Scott

The new year brought the optimism of lengthening days, even as the undeniable effects of climate change frighten and yet drive the desire to “do something.” 

Nationally, January brought the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. stopping us to think about his legacy, inspiring yet so unfulfilled more than 50 years after his death. The legions of civil rights workers, volunteers, freedom riders, protesters and women and men of all faiths, colors and origins knew that past and present wrongs could be exposed through demonstrations and civil disobedience, and then made right by law. 

And 100 years ago, after many decades of struggle, women finally won the right to vote in the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Yet the United States was born out of compromise and states’ rights, leading to today’s patterns, in many states, of voter suppression eroding the democracy we had strengthened for nearly 250 years. 

Yes, all women and men 18 and over have the constitutional right to vote. But in practice many eligible individuals don’t register, or don’t exercise their right to vote, or have that right taken away if they’ve been convicted of felonies, or are arbitrarily removed for the voting rolls, or they are gerrymandered to limit the value of their vote, etc. 

Yet voting this year, 2020, is critical; for president, for all members of the House of Representatives, and for one-third of senators. In a polarized and cacophonous political climate, what can be done to ensure a fully participatory democracy?

Meet Lisa M. La Corte, a resident of Riverhead township, who wanted to honor King as an icon for civil rights and voter engagement, and honor the suffragists and all people who risked and gave all for the right to vote in a free election. The League of Women Voters learned about someone who was riding the Patchogue-Riverhead Suffolk bus in the afternoons in January, getting passengers to register to vote. We invited her to a recent board meeting, and heard her story.

La Corte boarded the bus at the beginning of its weekday route, introduced herself to the driver, and when everyone had boarded she stood at the front and made a public announcement, introducing herself. She said she was there to help register voters and hear riders’ concerns of poor transportation for underserved communities as well as other issues. She stressed the importance of the passengers’ having their voices heard through the vote. She then walked from the front to the back asking each person individually if they were registered and if not (but eligible) she would register them then and there. 

Most passengers are shy or skeptical but La Corte perseveres. When speaking with riders who do not want to register, she reminds them that “what they want for you to not do is vote” and reminds them by staying out of the democratic process elected officials can ignore or minimize their needs and concerns. Their voices are not heard and their community exerts no pressure for change.

The challenge for someone working with communities of color, in her view, is that black and brown people have no trust in any level of government or the process in general because they have been left behind so many times. Poor people feel that they don’t count no matter what they do, resulting in a sense of hopelessness. Our fractured communities are separated by a chasm of real-life experiences; why should they participate in a system that ignores or mistreats them? Why is authority not being held accountable? Why are black and brown people incarcerated on a hugely disproportionate basis, breaking up families and communities? 

La Corte engages with all riders, whether or not they register to vote. She listens to their stories and challenges and hopes to build trust and commitment to the vote. As she said to the league, “I would love a movement that would transcend what I could ever imagine. I am but one person with ideas that hopes to inspire others. Like James Baldwin said, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until its faced’.”  

What are you doing to ensure access to the vote for all our fellow citizens, educate them on the issues, and reestablish trust in our civic institutions and government?

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.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signs the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act on July 18. Photo from Gov. Cuomo’s office

By Stephanie Quarles

New York State took an important step in July toward reducing our state’s “contribution” to global warming when Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. 

This comprehensive bill is the result of many years of planning by grassroots organizations with the support of Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), chair, NY Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation; Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair, NY Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation; and Carl Heastie (D), speaker of the Assembly. 

It sets critical environmental standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for increasing the use of renewables, setting the goal of reducing emissions at 85 percent by 2050 and mandating an interim target of a 40 percent reduction from 1990 emissions by 2030. 

New York State’s commitment to climate protection has thus been established … but we need more, and soon. If not, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act will be no more than a gesture of intent. 

When the legislators return in January 2020, they will turn to the task of actually implementing the act, which will be led by a 22-member Climate Action Council composed of the heads of various New York State agencies along with members appointed by the governor, the Senate and the Assembly. The council will focus on “sectors,” such as energy, transportation and housing. 

For example, in the energy sector, the members will look at renewable energy such as offshore wind and solar. One of the things being considered in the transportation sector is encouraging electric cars. In the housing sector they will look for substitutes for cement, heating with electricity and better insulation. The Climate Action Council MUST be appointed early in 2020!

Climate change especially heightens the vulnerability of disadvantaged communities, which bear environmental and socioeconomic burdens. A bill (A01564, Peoples-Stokes, S02385, Parker) to establish a permanent Environmental Justice Advisory Group within the Department of Environmental Conservation is not yet law. The 17-member Environmental Justice Advisory Group would require state agencies to adopt and abide by effective environmental justice policies. 

Its members would represent environmental organizations from community-based organizations that advise minority low-income communities,  business representatives,  local  government representatives and  members taken from state and national organizations, educators, researchers and the general public. It prioritizes the allocation of public investments in areas with minority and low-income residents, looking toward “fair treatment” such that “no ethnic or socioeconomic group, be disproportionately exposed to pollution or bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental impact.” 

A Coordinating Council would be comprised of the heads of DEC, the Department of Transportation, the NY Power Authority and other agencies that engage in activities that impact the environment, or their designees.

Progress has been made:  The 1,4-dioxane ban and the polluter pays law are now law. But we are still waiting for the PFAS-free firefighting foam bill (A00445A, Steck, S00439A, Hoylman) to become law and for the Assembly and Senate to pass the nitrogen fertilizer bill (A04568, Englebright, S02130, Kaminsky). Keep up the pressure on your elected NYS representatives throughout their session (Jan.-June, 2020). 

None of the above laws and efforts can improve our environment and safety unless funding is established and approved. There will be the usual horse trading as the budget is negotiated in early 2020, but environmental funding is not a negotiable item. Educate yourself on the issues. Reach out to your NYS legislators and their staffs on a regular basis especially in January and February. They need to hear that their constituents are knowledgeable and persistent on climate justice issues. 

Make your voice heard on climate change legislation and action. Ask to prioritize the appointment to the Climate Action Council as well as the bill establishing the Justice Advisory Group by contacting your NYS Assembly member and senator, the majority leader of the Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie and the governor. 

Visit the LWVNY webpage at https://bit.ly/36kKGEM  to find your elected officials, and  get contact information at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county/2019-directory-public-officials. For more information about other NYS environmental legislation visit https://eany.org/our-work/bill-ratings.

Stephanie Quarles is a director 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 Lisa Scott

The League of Women Voters (LWV) has a longstanding non-partisan role in organizing, managing and moderating candidate debates in Suffolk County. On Oct. 21 we expanded that role by creating an alliance with the Kings Park Central School District (KPCSD) for a Suffolk County Executive debate.

In the summer we were given permission to use Kings Park High School (KPHS) auditorium, chosen for  its convenient location near the Sunken Meadow Parkway, thus appealing to both Smithtown and Huntington township voters. As the campaigns heated up in late September, LWV engaged with KPCSD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Timothy Eagen, who was most enthusiastic about establishing a true partnership between LWV and KPHS. Dr. Karen Lessler, KPHS Assistant Principal and Jack Bishop, KPHS Student Council Advisor, immediately followed up with LWV and a plan was developed that was innovative and educational for the school and the community. 

With LWV guidance on debate structure and rules, KPHS students in the National Honor Society and the Student Council worked diligently to organize the program and materials for the night of the debate. They spread word about the debate to the greater Kings Park community (including parents) and organizations, and letters were sent to local elected officials inviting them to be honored guests at the debate. They collaborated on banners both for the candidate dais as well as a welcome banner in the KPHS lobby. They created informative name cards for each of the candidates, as well as a program for all attendees with debate rules, candidate names, and details of all students speakers/topics. They also developed questions for the candidates (on index cards) which dealt with issues of importance to students. 

On the night of the debate, the students welcomed over 300 attendees. They introduced administrators, spoke about the importance of voting and read each candidate’s biography. Other students mixed with the attendees prior to the debate in the lobby, giving out programs and question cards, which were also distributed and collected in the auditorium. 

The debate itself was videotaped by Kings Park Productions, and is posted on the LWV website, www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org on the events page. Local media were present and did extensive reporting the following day. Questions asked of candidates Bellone, Fischer and Kennedy during the two hour debate covered many issues including young peoples’ challenges in finding jobs and affordable housing, vaping and the opioid crisis, school safety, the environment, especially water issues and creating more vibrant sustainable downtowns. 

A week after the debate, LWV members met with about 15 students who were involved in the debate to “de-brief.” Most students admitted that they didn’t really know much about the office, the candidates, or debates in general. Only a few considered themselves up to date on current issues or “political.” A few spoke about the importance of getting news from legitimate sources. 

Interestingly, the students were surprised that so few people showed up in a county with  1.5 million people. They also commented on how the candidates “interacted with each other” and that the “candidates didn’t directly answer the questions.” When asked whether they were surprised by the results of the election, they said no.

The KPHS students were committed to involving students from all grades so that there would be continuity. They looked forward to future debates, and thanked KPHS for their “excellent support.” It takes a village — actually a school district — to set an example of youth empowerment and engagement. 

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 https://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.

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By Lisa Scott

Off-year elections (not congressional or presidential) tend to draw much smaller numbers of voters to the polls. In the final four weeks before Election Day 2019, it’s the 2020 presidential race that dominates the media. More people can name the prospective Democratic presidential candidates than know the races on their ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 5. 

Registered?

By the time you read this column, if you haven’t yet registered you will not be able to vote on Nov. 5 this year — but register soon if you want to vote in the 2020 primaries and general election. Use the NYS Board of Elections website: https://voterlookup.elections.ny.gov/ to see if you are registered and to see your assigned Election Day poll site.

Assuming you are registered to vote — you should be making your plan now — a plan involves deciding what day, when and where you’ll vote if you take advantage of the nine days of early voting in New York State this year. Make voting a social occasion — go with a friend and then stop for coffee, or perhaps take a child with you to the polling place and introduce her to voting.

If you choose early voting, there are 10 polling sites (one in each town in Suffolk) that you may choose from, with a variety of times to suit nearly everyone’s convenience. Details are at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county.

Use the new voting process

The voting process will be different this year — the old poll books are being replaced by electronic tablets (similar to iPads) and electronic signature devices. Your personalized ballot will be printed immediately. You’ll go to a voting station to make your choices on the paper ballot (same as the past few years) and then insert your completed ballot into the optical scanner to cast your vote. 

It’s different and that’s one reason you should vote this year. Understand the process now and get comfortable with the new system before 2020’s federal election.

Do your homework before you go

Local media are interviewing candidates, making endorsements and planning voter guides, earlier than usual because early voting starts on Oct. 26. The League of Women Voters Education Fund developed VOTE411.org, which provides election information for each state. By entering your address (no names needed), you will find a guide to all races and candidates on your ballot. Candidates are provided tools to upload their photo, bio, experience and answer several questions on the issues. If candidates do not respond, you’ll still see their name and prospective office. 

The league (and other civic groups) will organize candidate debates prior to the election. Some groups sponsor meet and greets, others will spotlight individual candidates. The league’s best practices reflect our nonpartisan, citizen-education mission. Debates must include two candidates — we have a strict No Empty Chair policy. 

For example, in 2019 the league co-sponsored two county executive debates (Sept. 21 with NAACP and Oct. 21 with Kings Park School District) as well as many town-level debates. Candidates agree to guidelines in advance, and questions on a wide range of topics are solicited, submitted, vetted and asked by the moderators. All debates involving the league are listed at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county/upcoming-events#debates.

You might learn something

This November, you’ll have the opportunity to vote for Suffolk County executive (four-year term) and all 18 members of the Suffolk County Legislature (two-year terms). Some town supervisors are on the ballot, as well as many town council members and other town officials such as clerk and receiver of taxes. Towns have their own laws regarding terms of office and which officials are elected vs. appointed. Judges are also on the ballot. 

By studying your ballot in advance, and following the campaigns and media reporting, you’ll know more about candidate positions on issues of importance to you and your community. Suffolk County and our 10 towns face many serious challenges: fiscal, environmental, public health, economic development and more. 

Yes, you can complain to your elected officials and advocate in the coming years, but wouldn’t it be better if you started with an informed choice and voted on Nov. 5?

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 https://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.

Stock photo

By Lisa Scott

Starting this fall, registered voters may vote early in the general election. New York has long lagged behind most of the country when it comes to voting. During this past legislative session however, many election reform bills were passed and signed into law. These new laws significantly change the way you can register and vote in New York State. Some reforms have taken effect already, some will take effect in the next year, and two are constitutional amendments that need to be passed by both houses of the Legislature after the next statewide election (2020) and then be approved by the voters.

One of the key reforms adopted this year is the provision for early voting across the state. Because off-year elections (local races, not congressional or presidential) have significantly lower turnout than for federal/state election years, early voting in 2019 will serve as a proving ground for 2020’s expected high voter turnout for president.

The Suffolk County Board of Elections (SC BOE) has chosen 10 early voting sites in the county, one site in each township. The requirement that residents of each town vote only at the site in their town, rather than give them the flexibility to vote at any of the 10 sites, has been a strong concern. However in meetings with the SC BOE, they’ve said that short lead time (due to lack of NYS regulations), required new equipment, network security and avoiding anyone casting ballots in more than one poll site were factors.

AS OF SEPTEMBER 25, 2019, THIS HAS CHANGED. According to a Suffolk County Board of Elections statement: “Early voters will be able to cast a ballot at any of Suffolk’s 10 Early Voting locations. This expansion follows the Suffolk Board of Elections’ successfully completing vast interoperability, communications and security testing of the Board’s specialized iPads at each the County’s ten polling locations. This operational testing was necessary to ensure that a voter who voted in one early polling place wasn’t able to subsequently cast a second ballot at another polling place.”

You still must be registered to vote in advance of voting early in NYS. October 11, 2019, is the last day to register to vote in person at your county Board of Elections office or to postmark your voter registration form (which should be mailed to your county BOE office). In NYS, you cannot register to vote during early voting or at the polls on Election Day.

Voting at an early voting poll site will be different from the way you have voted on Election Day. There will be electronic poll books instead of the familiar paper registration books. However, you will still be expected to sign in, receive a ballot, complete the ballot and feed the ballot into a scanner for counting. The ballot at an early voting poll site will be identical to the ballot provided on Nov. 5, Election Day.

Once you submit your ballot in person, at an early voting poll site, you cannot vote again at an early voting poll site, at your usual poll site on Election Day or by absentee ballot. Once you submit your ballot, you have completed voting and cannot change your vote.

If you are at an early voting poll site or at your usual poll site on Election Day, and your name is not in the electronic poll book, ask to complete an affidavit ballot. Make sure you are at the correct poll site for your address (either in early voting or on Election Day), and if so, do not leave without completing an affidavit ballot.

Remember that if you prefer to vote on Election Day, Nov. 5, you still must go to your usual assigned poll site to vote (not the one early voting site in your town).

Suffolk’s 10 early voting sites will be open daily, including weekends, between Oct. 26 and Nov. 3, 2019. All sites will have the same hours, but those hours will be different each day to accommodate voters’ schedules. All 10 early voting sites are handicap-accessible. There is no early voting on Monday, Nov. 4.

For a list of the 10 early voting sites in Suffolk (which are subject to change) and their hours, call the SC BOE at 631-852-4500 or check its website https://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/BOE/Early-Voting-Information.

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 https://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.

Please note: This article was updated on Sept. 27.