State Assemblymen Raise Concerns About Early Voting on Shelter Island

Pictured Above: The Shelter Island Youth Center, in the American Legion Hall, was the island’s early voting site in 2019. | Jeanne Merkel photo

Suffolk County has expanded its early voting locations to include three new polling places in western Suffolk, but they’ve done so at the expense of Shelter Island, where the early polling place at the Shelter Island Youth Center was eliminated.

State Assemblymen Fred Thiele and Anthony Palumbo lawmakers urged the polling place be reinstated in an Aug. 19 letter to Suffolk County Election Commissioners Anita Katz and Nick LaLota.

“Voting is a fundamental right and an essential part of our democracy,” they wrote. “Last year, to provide New Yorkers with additional time to make it to the polls, the State Legislature authorized early voting statewide during a nine-day period before any general, primary or special election, delivering a more equitable voting process.

The Suffolk County Board of Elections responded by establishing early voting site in each town last year, but this year removed the Shelter Island site and added three others in areas where there was greater demand for early voting: at the Huntington Public Library’s Station Branch on New York Avenue; at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Second Avenue in Brentwood and at the Mastic Recreation Community Center on Herkimer Street.

A full list of early voting locations and hours in Suffolk has been compiled by the League of Women Voters.

Early voting runs from Saturday, Oct. 24 through Sunday, Nov. 1, and residents can vote at any of the locations in the county — election officials will print out a ballot on-site for the voter’s home district.

While the new polling places are in major population centers at the west end of the island and the lawmakers applauded the county for including them, they said the exclusion of Shelter Island “is simply discriminatory to its residents and will effectively eliminate the early voting option for many.”

Shelter Island “is geographically separated from the rest of Long Island, with the mainland, and all other early voting sites, solely accessible by boat,” the lawmakers wrote. “Removing this early voting location will force residents that wish to participate in early voting in the upcoming general election to board a ferry to a polling location in another town. This places an undue burden on residents of Shelter Island, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, where elderly voters and those in higher-risk categories will face increased risk of exposure if they choose to participate in early voting.”

Shelter Island is currently in Mr. Thiele’s assembly district on the South Fork, though it had been in Mr. Palumbo’s assembly district on the North Fork until district lines were redrawn by the state legislature in 2012. Nearly 60 percent of the island’s population of about 2,400 is over the age of 44.

“All towns should be accommodated equally and no resident of the county should be faced with unfair obstacles to casting their vote simply because of the town they live in,” wrote the lawmakers. “At a time when ballot access should be as widely available as possible to all voters, the elimination of the si early voting location will suppress the votes of many.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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