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Suffolk County League of Women Voters

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By Nancy Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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By 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.

Challenger Will Ferraro and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine during a debate hosted by the Sound Beach Civic Association at the Sound Beach Firehouse Oct. 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

Road issues and health/odor complaints from the town landfill have become a major bane for residents in the Town of Brookhaven, and local incumbents and challengers have made it a major point of their election campaigns.

The Sound Beach Civic Association hosted debates Oct. 8 for Brookhaven town candidates in The Village Beacon Record area as Long Island quickly slides toward Election Day Nov. 5.

The room was flanked with both Republican, Democratic and a few third-party candidates.

Perhaps the most contentious town race is for supervisor, with young Democratic challenger Will Ferraro facing the well-established town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

Romaine lauded his and the town’s accomplishments in the seven years since he was first put in office during a special election in 2012. He talked about recent intermunicipal agreements combining districts to save residents money, including ending the Sound Beach and Setauket water districts that gave a small check to residents of those defunct districts.

In terms of roads, Romaine cited the proposed town budget that includes a $150 million pot of funds for the Highway Department from both bonds and reserves from the tentative capital budget.

“I believe in fighting for each and every one of the communities of this town”

– Ed Romaine

Ferraro, who has worked as a legislative analyst for the New York State Assembly and a political activist, spoke of the three main issues of his campaign: the quality of Brookhaven’s roads, a plan to reconfigure the town’s recycling to bring back monthly glass pickup, and a public plan for air quality issues around the town landfill.

“This election is not going to be about credentials, it’s about credibility,” he said.

When an audience member’s question was brought up about the town’s website, saying that it was purposefully convoluted, the supervisor said the town has worked hard to make everything easily available and to make town matters transparent. Ferraro retorted, “I agree with [Romaine] I don’t think it’s intentional, they really think that’s what a website is supposed to look like in 2019.”

The landfill was recently cited by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation over odor complaints and was ordered to spend $150,000 on the landfill or face a fine of $178,000. Romaine said the odor complaints were from last December and occurred because of the process of currently capping portions of the site in the Brookhaven hamlet. The town is looking to set aside $20 million to deal with the impact of the landfill closing in 2024.

“We are definitely going to look at how we are going to handle solid waste — that is something we will be working with all the communities in Brookhaven,” he said.

Ferraro responded that Romaine was diluting the complaints that residents living close to the landfill have had, both in terms of odor and health issues they claim have come from the dump. He criticized Romaine for leaving his state appointment to the Long Island Regional Planning Council in 2018 and said more needs to be done to test the air quality in the area surrounding the landfill.

The day of the debate, Newsday had published its endorsement for Romaine, who held up a printout to show to the audience. Ferraro said, “that endorsement will be in Newsday tomorrow, it will also be in my cat’s litter box tomorrow,” to the moans of several audience members.

Though he had planned to attend the debate, town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) had to cancel at the last minute, and his second-time Democratic challenger Anthony Portesy spoke up instead about his plans to remedy town road issues.

He advocated for his six-point plan, complaining about the town’s practices of “mill and fill” for fixing roads with topcoats that crumble in a short time and for not fixing drainage issues. He also talked about creating a priority list by working with the town council, and then posting that publicly online to see which roads are getting done based on the level of funding. He also called for the need to advocate for more state and federal funding for road repairs.

“We need to get out of this duct tape and Band-Aid operation,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re creating a long-term mission for the Town of Brookhaven.”

Democrat Sarah Deonarine is challenging Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) for the District 2 seat.

Bonner said the issue with recycling was the market has collapsed, a problem not just for Brookhaven but for every municipality across the U.S. Since the market for glass has fallen through the floor, the town has been taking glass at drop-off sites and using them for lining the landfill.

“What is better recycling than that?,” she said.

Regarding the landfill, she said the town has steadily increased its landfill closure account to deal with the impacts of when there will be nowhere on the island left to dump ash or debris, though they have taken the odor complaints “very seriously.” She said the best plan is to turn the landfill into an “energy park.” 

On the issue of recycling the Democratic challenger cited other towns that currently accept other materials, promising to model their collection system after them. She also called out the town’s response to the DEC’s order regarding the landfill. She said she has “connections” around the island, and with those they could start a work group that could look at the health impacts of the landfill.

“The town should recognize that people are getting sick there, set up our own [odor] hotline, and invest in the people in the area to get better,” she said.

On Monday, Oct. 14, the Sound Beach Civic Association will host a second debate moderated by the Suffolk County League of Women Voters between Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and her Republican challenger Gary Pollakusky at the Sound Beach Firehouse located at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. People can come at 6:30 p.m. to write out questions for the debate starting at 7:30 p.m.

Early voting starts Oct. 26, with election day set for Tuesday, Nov. 5. Check back here at The Village Beacon Record Oct. 31 for our annual election issue, featuring debates with all local candidates in our coverage area.