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Village elections delayed over coronavirus threat

Farmingdale is among multiple villages across the Island

Farmingdale is among multiple villages across the Island that will now hold elections in April.  Credit: Newsday/Alexi Knock

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday delayed village elections scheduled for Wednesday across New York State to protect voters and poll workers from the growing threat of the new coronavirus.

Cuomo issued an executive order to postpone the votes until April 28, when New Yorkers are scheduled to cast ballots in the presidential primary election.

"Our top priority has been keeping New Yorkers safe and stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus," the governor said in a statement. "Public health officials have been clear that reducing density is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread, and delaying village elections will help ensure poll workers and voters are not potentially exposed to the virus and at the same time maintain integrity in our election system."

The move follows similar delays across the country, including in Georgia and Louisiana, which have pushed back upcoming presidential primary votes amid the coronavirus outbreak.

After having scrambled to prepare for elections in the midst of a global pandemic, village officials across Long Island expressed relief Monday at the decision to delay.

"That's good news," said Teresa Spinosa, interim mayor of Massapequa Park, where there are competitive races for her post and two trustee seats. "It gives us some breathing room at least."

Spinosa said she had been concerned that fears over the outbreak might depress turnout, especially among the elderly, who are more vulnerable to the virus.

"We had a lot of the senior citizens that weren't planning to come out because their families were discouraging them from leaving their homes," she said. "It would've been unfair to them, I believe, and for everybody else who's been asked to stay away from crowds."

Public health experts recommend people keep their distance from others during the pandemic to minimize its spread.

Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri also praised the decision, noting that many poll workers are also older adults.

“My concern through all of this was the fact that all of our election inspectors were over 75,” Pontieri said. “We were doing exactly what the governor asked us not to do, gather in groups."

The move to delay comes after villages had taken unusual steps to keep voters safe in the event the election went forward Wednesday. 

In Valley Stream, where two trustees will defend their seats against one challenger, Mayor Edwin Fare said the village had ordered some 2,000 pens — one for each likely voter — and planned to have public safety officers clean doorknobs with disinfecting wipes after anyone entered or exited a polling place.

"We were taking every reasonable precaution," he said. 

Fare questioned whether the terms of incumbent officials will also extend until after the April 28 elections. In Valley Stream, he said, terms end at the beginning of April.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office said incumbents will continue in office but did not provide further details.

In Farmingdale, where former Mayor George Starkie is challenging Mayor Ralph Ekstrand for his post, Village Administrator Brian Harty also voiced approval late Monday for postponing the vote until April 28.

"Let's hope this thing is over by then," he said of the pandemic. "I would've liked to have it over yesterday."

With Carl MacGowan

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