Tags Posts tagged with "Voting"

Voting

Amongst record-breaking turnout for the 2020 election, there is still one lingering issue that Suffolk County needs to correct for the many elections in our future, namely the dearth of early voting locations in the county.

In the midst of a pandemic, providing an opportunity for locals to vote earlier than Election Day made more sense than ever before. It was about keeping the number of people to a minimum to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Accommodating those who didn’t want to vote amongst crowds because they felt they would be at a higher risk to catch the coronavirus should have been at the utmost of priorities.

In Suffolk, past years have seen one early voting site per town, and this year the number of locations was increased to 12. Critics had lobbied for more than a dozen sites in the county, preferably 21, but the calls were met with compromise.

Well, the results are in and the critics were right. The slight bump in polling places wasn’t enough. People found themselves in line at early polling locations for hours. Lines at locations like Brookhaven Town Hall or Nesconset Elementary School snaked through parking lots and twisted around residential streets. As ridiculous as it sounds, people had to bring chairs with them to vote.

According to New York State law, the boards of elections should consider various factors when choosing a site including population density, travel time, proximity to other sites and how close it is to public transportation routes.

In Brookhaven, voters could find locations in Farmingville and Mastic but nothing on the North Shore. Smithtown residents had one location in Nesconset and many, once they discovered they would have to wait hours in line, traveled to Brentwood to vote early. In the TBR News Media coverage area from Cold Spring Harbor to Wading River along the North Shore of the Island — which can vary between 40 to 50 miles depending on what route a person takes — that Nesconset location was the only early voting polling place.

Of course, we realize one of the problems may be a lack of poll workers and volunteers. Hearing the concerns of many residents who are now shouting voter fraud and the like it’s ironic how more people aren’t willing to participate in one of the most important processes in America. Our suggestion to the Suffolk County Board of Elections: Make more of an effort in getting the word out that people are needed to help voters.

The long lines of people to cast an early vote proved that Suffolk residents wanted their voices to be heard. Those lines proved that the county and country need to rethink the early voting process.

Suffolk County needs to work out a funding stream that is dedicated to early polling places come Election Day, and the nation needs to have a serious conversation about standardized processes for mail-in ballots or early voting. At the same time, why not make Election Day a national holiday?

While the hope is that future election procedures won’t need to adhere to pandemic guidelines, offering a more flexible schedule enables people more than 15 hours on Election Day to have their say, no matter what their workday schedule or other responsibilities entail.

To have one day to vote may have worked in the early days of our country, but with the U.S. population increasing massively over the centuries, and people of color as well as women gaining the right to vote along the way, it’s time to expand to make sure every adult in America can vote no matter what their circumstances may be.

The line to vote at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point was about 30 minutes, but other voters reported much longer lines the early morning of Nov. 3. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr, Rita J. Egan and Julianne Mosher

Capping off months of anticipation, the 2020 election came to a head Tuesday night, though New Yorkers will still need to wait weeks before they know the true outcomes of state and federal races.

As it stands, Republicans have taken an early lead based on unofficial counts of in-person polling numbers by the Suffolk County Board of Elections. Nick LaLota, Republican BOE commissioner, said absentee ballots will start to be tabulated Nov. 10 after the board has had the opportunity to remove the absentee ballots of those voters who also cast a ballot on a machine, and have bipartisan teams compare the signatures on the oath envelopes to the voters signatures on file.

There have been well over 100,000 absentee ballots received in Suffolk County for the three congressional districts alone, and there will likely be more incoming as ballots are received as long as they were postmarked by Election Day. Election experts have also said those absentee ballots are more likely to favor Democrats.

In one of the most contested races for the NY1 Congressional seat, Lee Zeldin has already moved to declare victory. Zeldin is sitting at 61% of in-person votes while Goroff holds a little under 39%. The Zeldin campaign released a statement declaring victory at 11 p.m. Election Day.

“I am deeply honored and humbled that the families of Long Island have entrusted me to continue representing our great Congressional District,” Zeldin said in a statement.

Democratic contender Nancy Goroff’s campaign manager, Jacob Sarkozi, responded at 1:30 a.m. that, “With tens of thousands of ballots left to be opened, we owe it to voters that every single one be counted.”

There are currently 75,091 absentee ballots for CD1 uncounted as of Nov. 4.

Speaking to Goroff the evening of Nov. 3, before polls closed, she said the huge turnout in the district has been “amazing,” adding there has been a good deal of excitement about the coming results.

While in-person votes were still to be counted as of Election Day, with the thousands of absentee ballots still to be counted, she stressed it’s still too early to tell winners with any degree of certainty, but added the turnout is a good sign.

With an energized electorate not seen in many years, polling places across Long Island saw a huge rush early in the morning Nov. 3, with residents across the North Shore reporting hour or more wait times in chilling temperatures. Lines got progressively shorter over the day, and by 8:30 a.m. people were reporting between 20- to 40-minute lines.

The night of Nov. 3, both Suffolk County party committees held online livestream events, rather than the usual election parties held at Stereo Garden in Patchogue for the Republicans and IBEW Local 25 in Hauppauge for the Democrats. The Dems palled around in a short hour-long Zoom call before signing off. The Republicans spent the night taking calls from candidates and committee members, relishing the early polling numbers.

Other congressional races have similarly stalled at a Republican lead. U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) is currently sitting at 47% to Republican challenger George Santos at 53%.

Kim Devlin, a senior adviser to Suozzi’s campaign, said in a statement they believe Suozzi is guaranteed to win.

“It is clear that Tom will win reelection by a substantial margin,” Devlin said. “Democrats hold a 3-1 advantage in the nearly 90 thousand absentee votes yet to be counted and we expect Tom’s margin of victory to be over 20 thousand votes.”

For state Senate, the race between Democrat Laura Ahearn and current Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) in District 1 is locked at 43% to 57%, respectively.

Palumbo said in a statement he is “really excited about our position today and [I] feel good about our likelihood of success,” adding he is honored to be close to representing the district occupied by state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

Ahearn said in a statement that “while the early vote and Election Day in-person vote was not as close as we had hoped,” with more 31,000 mail-in ballots still to be counted, there is a need to be patient and ensure all ballots are counted. She also thanked her supporters, as well as her campaign staff, interns and volunteers “for their dedication and commitment.”

In SD2, Republican Mario Mattera holds a near-30 point lead over his Democratic opponent Mike Siderakis at 64%-36% Wednesday morning. Mattera said he was grateful for all the volunteers who assisted in the campaign.

“I’m so excited for my community,” he said. “I’m so excited for our families.”

Once in Albany, Mattera, who describes himself as “a middle-of-the-road guy,” said he will work to repeal the bail reform act and ensure funding for law enforcement. Continuing to educate the public about precautions to take during the pandemic and helping businesses to open up fully is also on the forefront of his mind. He added he will continue to work on improving the infrastructure in the district. Mattera worked with elected officials and community leaders on the revitalization of Lake Avenue in St. James. He said it’s important to secure a sewage treatment plant that will allow for growth in the area and at the same time will protect local waterways.

Siderakis did not respond to request for comment.

Republican Ed Smyth, who is currently a Town of Huntington councilman, was leading Wednesday morning in the race for state Senate in SD5 with more than 55% of the votes. Sitting state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) at 43% is vying for his second term.

“I’m not ready to hang a mission-accomplished banner over my office,” Smyth said.

The councilman said he will be watching the results closely as he knows thousands of absentee ballots still need to be counted, and from what he has heard, more Democrats than Republicans requested absentee ballots.

“There’s nothing normal about this election year,” he said.

Gaughran’s spokesperson Marissa Espinoza also said it was too early for anyone to declare victory.

“There are nearly 30,000 absentee votes, the majority of which appear to be from Democrats,” she said. “It is vital that every vote be counted. I’m confident that this full count will favor Senator Gaughran.”

For state Assembly, there are some tight and other not-so-tight races. Republican Jodi Giglio is standing at 62% to her Democratic opponent Laura Jens-Smith’s 36% in District 2.

Jens-Smith said during a phone interview Nov. 4 though there are still ballots to count, it’s likely her opponent has the ball. She said the day’s results show that Democrats need to focus on “rebuilding our base here to make sure that the issues we campaigned on are getting out to the voters better.”

She said she will continue to stay involved in the area, especially to make sure “we continue to have working and middle class here on Long Island.”

Giglio said she was holding on any declarations until all absentee votes are counted, but she thanked GOP leadership, her volunteers and her support from law enforcement and labor.

“Every vote means something to me and I am humbled by the confidence in me from the voters and the vote count thus far,” she said.

28-year incumbent Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is behind his Republican opponent Michael Ross by close to five points in Assembly District 4 at 47%-52%. There are well over 15,000 absentee ballots to be counted, as of Nov. 4.

Englebright said he is not too concerned at the current polling numbers, as because of the pandemic and so many people voting differently, “I think we’ll be OK … a very substantial number of people who voted absentee ballot — a majority are my vote.”

Ross said he remains cautiously optimistic.

I think that across the board on the Island, the middle class spoke loudly for the Democrats to hear that they’re tired of the Albany agenda, and they’re tired of being ignored and their voices not being heard,” he said.

The day’s vote disparity is most drastically seen in Assembly District 8, with incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) holding more than 70% of the vote compared to Democratic challenger Dylan Rice’s 29%.

Fitzpatrick said while “the dust still has to settle,” he feels good about where he’s at.

“It was just an unusual campaign,” he said. “I’m used to being out and about in front of people. We did a couple of events, but certainly not like past campaigns.”

Rice did not respond to a request for comment.

In the 12th Assembly District, Republican Keith Brown had more than 57% of the vote, while Democrat Michael Marcantonio had more than 42% of the votes Wednesday morning.

Brown said while he feels good about the lead but he’s not ready to claim victory yet.

“Every vote is important and has to be counted,” he said.

The candidate said his campaign was one based on character and his experience with getting things done, and he was humbled by the support he received from family, friends, the Republican, Conservative and Independent parties as well as law enforcement organizations.

Marcantonio said he was being patient with results and optimistic for him and other Democrats who are currently trailing.

“This is going to look like a very different race in two weeks when all these votes are counted,” he said.

The Democrat said as of Wednesday morning four polling places in the district were not yet counted, and based on conversations his campaign has had with the board of elections and based on other data they have received, there are a little under 13,000 absentee votes that still need to be counted. Marcantonio is down by 8,000 votes.

“The race is far from over,” he said.

The candidate said he knew the race would be a close one, and he congratulated Brown on the strong showing and appreciated the Republican for not declaring victory just yet.

Republican Jamie Silvestri and incumbent Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) are close to a tie at about 50% each in Assembly District 10, with over 15,000 absentee ballots still to be counted.

“I’m very grateful for all the incredible people who stood by me and supported me throughout the year,” Silvestri said in a phone interview Nov. 4. “I’m optimistic for what’s ahead.”

Stern said that while the numbers are close, there are ballots to be counted over the next week. “It’s a very close race,” he said. “However, there still is a long way to go over the course of the next week in making sure every vote is counted, and when that process is complete I have every confidence that I will have the privilege to represent my community.”

A caravan of cars rolled through Port Jefferson Oct. 17 in support of President Donald Trump. Photo by Kyle Barr

Beyond the interruption to Saturday business for stores, some of whom are hanging on for dear life by their pinkie, beyond the traffic and the noise, where is this going?

Because we are two weeks before an election, likely one of the most consequential elections of our lifetime, and the Trump caravans taking over roads not just on the North Shore as they did last weekend, but from both east and west, have told us one thing: There are real efforts to take the general antipathy seen on the national stage and transport it to here at home.

Seemingly in response to a single Black Lives Matter march in Port Jefferson back in June, local right-wing group Setauket Patriots has hosted three events since July. One was a sanctioned car parade for Fourth of July. Another was an unsanctioned parade for 9/11. Now we have the most recent caravan supporting the reelection of President Donald Trump (R) last Saturday. All these events have contained many examples of people waving flags supporting Trump, but this latest parade finally dropped any pretense.

In videos shared online, some patriots members have displayed animosity to local officials, to neighbors or effectively anyone who doesn’t agree with them. One video highlighted an actor portraying Trump calling Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant “evil” for issuing the group a summons for marching without a permit. In another, a member of the caravan jokes about shooting counterprotesters.

Grown men and young children got into public shouting matches on the side of the street. There were reported examples of people in the caravan using gay slurs at any who showed disagreement. And, of course, not every example of bad behavior was carried out by Trump supporters. One counterprotester flipped the bird at all those gathered at the street corner, drawing jeers from the crowd.

Are these examples just small bites of a larger, more intricate context? We hope so, but there’s a real danger to thoughts like these. Yes, you can and should disagree with the decisions of public officials like the mayor of a small incorporated village, but what is the point of pejoratives? Where is this going? Is there going to be something like the planned armed coup by residents against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D)? Not likely but, then again, officials like U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) have joined in on attacks against the mayor seemingly on political grounds. These attempts at further dividing a local community are not welcome.

And beyond that, if you joke about shooting your political opponents, no matter if they are protesters, officials or police, you no longer deserve the kind of public platform you currently enjoy.

Divided. That’s what we call ourselves now. We say we are polarized and distinct, with one red America and one blue America. Why? Why do we push this polarization as if it’s inevitable?

This month, TBR News Media has been hosting debates with candidates running for local elections. Would you be offended or glad to know just how often these people from two separate parties actually agree on local issues? Both Republicans and Democrats agree with how important it is to maintain our North Shore bays and the Long Island Sound in general. Both parties understand the issue of Long Island’s brain drain and the need to keep both old and young here. They might disagree on the particulars, but that is why we have the debates in the first place, isn’t it?

Even on the so-called hot-button issues like police reform, there is real nuance and ideas from candidates you likely won’t see on any nationally televised debate stage.

There are people, even in our local community, who are trying to twist us and divide us. We ask that we all look past that and attend to the facts to guide our political decision-making. Check back with TBR News Media Oct. 29 for our upcoming preelection issue.

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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

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.

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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.

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Long Island residents bear a tremendous tax burden. So, when the editorial staff at TBR News Media report low voter turnouts for local elections, we are constantly puzzled. Why are people not voting?

A recent example is the Sept. 10 special election in the Setauket Fire District where commissioners were looking for the go-ahead to buy four new pumper trucks. While the vote wasn’t one that would immediately result in higher taxes like a bond vote, the district was still looking for the community’s approval to spend approximately $2.5 million. The vote was a meager 85-65 for the new trucks. With over 11,000 voting age residents in the fire district, where was everybody that Tuesday?

In comparison, on Sept. 18, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket saw 416 residents approve its budget and 61 voting “no.” While not a huge turnout, more people showed up to cast their votes.

Looking at board of education votes in North Shore communities, the turnouts seem only marginally higher. Considering school budgets can be a big hit to taxes, why do so many people miss out on casting their votes?

In 2019, for example, the Miller Place School District proposed a $74 million budget, an $1.2 million increase from the previous year. Only 783 residents turned out to vote. The hamlet may be small compared to other districts in our area, but according to the 2010 census, more than 12,000 people live there. Again, where was everyone?

When it comes to elections, whether for a fire or school district or library, entities are required by law to post legal notices in their local newspapers, which they do. And while they are not legally obligated to, many send out letters and include information in their newsletters and on their websites, and spread the word through social media. Plus, many school districts and libraries hold events to go over budgets with the community, though the meetings tend to be not well-attended by residents. The current system and practices seem inadequate.

It may be time for elected officials to look into the possibility of combining all such votes on one day, either in November or on primary day. If that’s not possible, due to fire district boundaries being different to those of school districts, then maybe legislators can set up funds to help fire districts, schools and libraries cover costs to better advertise elections. With the most recent Setauket Fire District vote, no letters were sent out, due to cost.

Under the current arrangement, entities have more incentive not to promote elections, since low voter turnout often means a proposal is more likely to be approved by the few people in the know.

Perhaps it’s time to institute a requirement: A certain percentage of residents must vote before a referendum can become official.

But the onus must also fall on the electorate as well as the government entities organizing an election.

So, in the meantime: Vote! It’s the only way to be sure your voice is heard.

By Lisa Scott

In New York State, we’ve truly had a landmark election. We had record-breaking rates of voter participation statewide with nearly 50 percent of voters turning out to vote.

Nationwide, in the face of suppression attempts, long lines, broken machines and partisan gerrymandering, voters turned out in huge numbers. They demanded better from our leaders. More women were elected to office than ever before, including the first Muslim and Native American women, the first black woman from New England and the first Latina women from Texas — all elected to Congress. Voting rights were expanded, with redistricting reforms and expanded registration passed in at least six states.

We are so proud of young voters who showed up, increasing the national youth turnout by roughly 50 percent over 2014. Early estimates signaled this could be the highest turnout for 18- to 29-year-olds since 18-year-olds were first granted the right to vote in 1971. Their votes helped to elect one of the most diverse slates of federal candidates, decided thousands of elections up and down the ballot and impacted progressive ballot measures across the country. By 2020, young people will comprise nearly 40 percent of voters, including nearly 9 million who turn 18 between now and the 2020 election. The League of Women Voters will continue and expand its programs to engage, educate and encourage youth to register and vote; they are our future.

In New York State strong voter turnout also highlighted the vulnerabilities and problems with our NY election laws. Separate primaries — federal offices held in June and state and local held in September — resulted in ballots not being certified until 3 weeks before Election Day and a significant delay in absentee ballots being mailed out. This resulted in confusion, mistrust and voters feeling disenfranchised. Yet there were increased absentee ballots submitted, indicating the importance of early voting options to our fellow NYS voters. Not having early voting also created long lines and extra problems on Election Day for voters, poll workers and the BOE.

The good news is that there is a way to solve these problems as early as next year. Early voting in NYS does not require a constitutional amendment but can be achieved through legislation in Albany. It will require electronic poll books, which have been used successfully in pilot projects in two NYS counties; the technology exists and is already being used in many states. Consolidating primaries does not need a constitutional amendment but needs agreement among lawmakers of both parties. Establishing only one primary date, earlier than September, would save NYS considerable money, which could offset the cost of early voting. Consolidated primaries would also end the problem of delayed mailing of absentee ballots.

Now that the election is behind us, it’s time to look ahead. The NYS Senate will now have a majority of Democratic members, many of whom have voiced support for league voting reform efforts in the past. The NYS Assembly passes voting reforms each year. We feel confident that we will finally see passage of early voting and other voting reforms in New York State during the January-June 2019 legislative session, with approval by the governor (and including funding in his budget).

The league will also continue its work registering more new voters, providing more nonpartisan information on candidates, hosting more debates and forums and advocating for legislation on critical issues, in an effort to create a more perfect democracy so that ALL Americans enjoy the same liberties and freedoms. Our democracy is truly strongest when everyone participates and has their voices heard. On Nov. 6, voters made huge steps toward full participation. But we still have so far to go. With your help and participation, the league can make a difference in your communities, Suffolk County, New York State and the nation. Call or email us to find out how you can get involved.

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

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By Judie Gorenstein

Will you be using your power on Nov. 6 or abdicating it to others? Voting is not only a right but a responsibility. Yet in New York voter turnout is exceptionally low: 49th out of all 50 states in 2014 at 28 percent of eligible voters. But this year’s September primary drew twice as many voters as 2014, so with your participation we can similarly do more than double 2014’s numbers.

What do you need to know to be not only a voter but an educated one? You can check your registration details at the Board of Elections www.SuffolkVotes.com website, including your polling site and if you are enrolled in a party. If you know you are registered but your name is not there, call Suffolk BOE at 631-852-4500 to resolve any issue. October 12 is the deadline for voter registration in New York State this year. Libraries and post offices have forms and they’re also online at www.SuffolkVotes.com and should be mailed to the Suffolk BOE.

Will you be out of the county for work, school or vacation and unable to get to the polls on Nov. 6? Does a disability or hospital or rehabilitation stay prevent you going to the polls? Are you a primary caregiver and unable to vote in person? If so, you can vote on an absentee ballot. This is a two-step process. Apply for an absentee ballot by picking up a copy as described above for voter registration form, filling out the request and mailing it to the BOE by Oct. 30.

 The BOE will mail you your ballot in time for you to complete and mail back to the BOE by Nov. 5. If after you vote on an absentee ballot and then you find you can and want to vote at the polls, you MAY and your absentee ballot will not be counted. Absentee ballots are counted days after the polls close when the BOE can compare them to signatures in poll books. However, be assured if you are not able to vote on Election Day and your absentee ballot was completed correctly, it will be counted.

For those who find out after Oct. 30 that they cannot get to the polls on Nov. 6, the Suffolk BOE will be open during the weekend before Election Day. You can go to the BOE at 700 Yaphank Ave. in Yaphank and vote on an absentee ballot, which will be counted as the others are. Check its website or call the BOE to find the days and hours.

This year in Suffolk County, we will be electing our representatives in Congress (Suffolk includes all or part of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd CDs), one U.S. senator, NYS governor, NYS lieutenant governor, NYS attorney general, NYS comptroller, NYS senators, NYS assemblypeople, Suffolk County comptroller, Suffolk County clerk and Suffolk County judges. Depending on your area, there may also be special town elections or local propositions on your ballot.

Knowing who is on your ballot and learning about the candidates before you get to the polls is vital. An excellent nonpartisan data aggregation service is www.BallotReady.org, which not only gives you the candidates on your ballot but provides background information on the candidates and their stances on major issues, who is endorsing them and, if you choose, will also send you a reminder to vote. You can access it at www.VotingNewYork.org. 

When possible see and hear the candidates in person at candidate forums, debates and events. Try to find out whether the event is sponsored by a nonpartisan group in order to get a fair perspective. The press, websites and other media have lots of useful information but most do endorse candidates or represent political party perspectives. Educate yourself and encourage others to do so. You’ll all learn more, and sharing insights and facts will broaden everyone’s view and motivate all to be voters. 

 Your vote is your power. If you go to the polls Nov. 6 and find your name omitted from the poll book, ask for an affidavit ballot (also called provisional ballot). Never ever leave a poll site without voting! Provisional ballots, just like absentee ballots, are counted at the Suffolk County BOE after Election Day, and elections are not certified until they are all reviewed. Make your choice count … be a voter!

 Judie Gorenstein is vice president for voter services 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://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.