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early voting

Photo courtesy of Museum of the American Revolution

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

In this year of celebrating a century since women were granted the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment, I will tell you a true tale from the dustbin of history.

Women voted for three decades after the American Revolution. They voted from 1776-1807 alongside men in, of all places, New Jersey. How do I know? Jennifer Schuessler tells me so in the Feb. 24 edition of The New York Times.

The women were only stopped from voting after “rampant fraud and corruption.” For example it seems that some men put on dresses to vote multiple times. New Jersey passed a law then, limiting voting in 1807 to white men.

Was it an early expression of gender equality or a legal loophole that enabled women — and African Americans — to vote at the dawn of our country? Or was that a myth?

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia located new-found poll lists that show women voted in “significant numbers” before they were denied. In August of this year the museum will open an exhibit called ironically, “When Women Lost the Vote,” featuring those documents. This is a great triumph for the museum and the tale.

While other states limited the vote to “freemen” or male inhabitants, New Jersey gave the right to vote to all “inhabitants” as long as “they” could show they had property worth 50 pounds. That ruled out most married women, whose property or income went to their husbands when they married. However, the law enfranchised many women, regardless of race, in New Jersey — or so the early story went. But where was the proof?

Then, an 1801 poll list from Montgomery Township, found in the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, was the first real modern-day evidence of numerous women voters. The state archives had acquired the lists in 2016 “from the descendants of a long-ago county clerk.”

Now there are 18 poll lists from four New Jersey townships from 1797-1807 that have been found. Nine of them include 163 unique women’s names. The women had cast about 7.7 percent of total votes. On some lists, it was as much as 14 percent.

An interesting corollary is that the women’s names almost always appear in bunches, suggesting that women came to the polls in groups. Maybe that had something to do with the polls often being located in taverns “awash with drunkenness and guns,” according to The Times.

Philip Mead, chief historian at the Museum of the American Revolution, explained that there was difficulty in determining who met the property requirements, which contributed to the end of gender and race equality in New Jersey.

Still, Mead sees a positive message in this research for the museum’s exhibit: “In early New Jersey, we have women voting and African Americans voting. This is a story both about what we might have been, and about who we’ve become.”

It is a fitting tale to mark the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Women’s History Month.

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.