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Suffolk eases some early voting rules

A woman votes in the primary election in

A woman votes in the primary election in Nesconset on Sept. 13, 2016. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Voters in Suffolk will be able to cast ballots at any of the 10 polling places that will be open countywide for early voting, instead of only at the site in their town, the county’s Board of Elections commissioners said.

Officials expanded where residents can vote after testing communications and security technology, including about 100 iPads, to ensure voters cannot cast a second ballot at another polling place, said Commissioners Nick LaLota, a Republican, and Anita Katz, a Democrat.

State early-voting legislation passed in January gives voters the choice of voting during the nine-day period before an election. Early voting for the Nov. 5 election begins Oct. 26.

In Nassau, registered voters can cast ballots at any of the 15 early-voting sites before Election Day. 

Suffolk faced criticism last month over its original plan to allow voters to cast ballots early only in the towns where they live. At a forum in Sayville, activists said making people vote in their towns added unnecessary inconvenience. They also said minority voter turnout could be suppressed because of the limited number of polling sites.

LaLota said the board decided on 10 early-voting sites based on the number of towns, even though state legislation only required a minimum of seven polling places countywide.

LaLota said the elections board did not have the time or resources to set up more sites, given the “rushed” rollout of early voting and a new iPad check-in system for voters.

He said the board had intended all along to allow voters to use any of the 10 sites, as long as the system was secure and the technology worked.

“To have announced a month ago that voters could vote at any location would’ve been premature and opened up our democratic process to some obvious vulnerabilities,” LaLota said Monday.

What made the change possible, he said, was moving the Southampton Town polling location to a site with a better cellular signal — 70 Tuckahoe Rd. — so polling inspectors could connect to the voter check-in system via iPad.

The new system also will send voting records to all the early-voting polling sites so that no one can vote twice or illegally, LaLota said.

Ed O’Donnell, a member of voting advocacy organization Sayville Citizens, called the change “a start.”

O'Donnell said the county should have 21 polling places because of its population. Also, the sites should be more evenly distributed, said O'Donnell. He noted that the Town of Shelter Island, with 1,300 residents, has the same number of early-voting sites — one — as Brookhaven Town, which has 486,000 residents.  

There are about 975,000 registered voters in Suffolk, LaLota said. Polling places are required to have between six and 50 poll inspectors, and the board has spent eight weeks training inspectors on the new check-in system.

 

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