The Examiner

Absentee Ballot Resolution Fails for New Castle Fire Commish Vote

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If New Castle Fire District No. 1 voters want to vote in December’s commissioner election, they will have to make sure they get to the firehouse in Chappaqua on Dec. 12, the day of the vote.

Commissioners for New Castle Fire District No. 1 deadlocked on a recent vote to make absentee ballots available for this December’s Board of Commissioners election a year after it endured stinging criticism regarding voting accessibility.

At its Sept. 14 meeting, the board tied 2-2 on whether there should the paper ballots for district voters who would be unable to make it to the polls during voting hours on Tuesday, Dec. 12. The board has been operating with only four members since the abrupt resignation of Commissioner John Buckley this summer.

For outspoken community members who battled commissioners regarding voting accessibility leading up to last October’s failed firehouse expansion vote, the decision to approve absentee ballots is a sign of regression.

“It’s hard to believe that in this day and age that people wouldn’t consider the optics, even if they didn’t feel strongly about it,” said Chappaqua resident Lynne Lambert. “It makes sense to do things in a more inclusive way. It is kind of surprising but it is what it is.”

Board Chairman Anthony Oliveri and Commissioner Brian Murphy voted against absentee ballots while commissioners Brian Jabloner and Danna Schoenberg supported the resolution.

Three days after the vote, the League of Women Voters (LWV) of New Castle released a statement expressing hope that both New Castle Fire District No. 1 and the Millwood Fire Company would make absentee ballots available. The Millwood Fire Company was scheduled to vote whether to allow absentee ballots at its meeting Monday night.

“Access to the voting booth is a core mission of the League of Women Voters,” the LWV statement read. “Earlier this month, the League of Women Voters of New Castle wrote to our two local fire districts (New Castle Fire District #1, and Millwood Fire Company #1) requesting that they consider making absentee ballots available for the December elections for fire commissioners. We will continue to advocate for improving the voting process.”

Requests for comment were made by The Examiner to all four commissioners. Two commissioners referred inquiries to Oliveri, while a third suggested posing questions to the entire board through Secretary Nancy Zezze. Oliveri stated via two separate e-mails that he was out of town and would not be able to respond until Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. A message left for Zezze was not returned.

Chappaqua resident Robin Murphy, who attended the Sept. 14 Board of Commissioners meeting, said by failing to approve absentee ballots it ensures that a certain percentage of district residents will be unable to cast a vote. That also includes some of the department’s younger members who might be away at college, she said.

While voting hours for the election were not settled at the last meeting, Murphy said if the board agrees to the traditional voting hours of 6 to 9 p.m. some of those residents who work in the city or have a long commute may miss out.

She has advocated for the board to have the polls open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. similar to a general election or a primary vote. Murphy said that she is prepared to volunteer to poll watch for the full 15 hours, and she knows of at least two other residents who would do the same.

“If nobody shows up to vote it’s still better to have it open,” Murphy said.

Distrust in the board escalated during the badly defeated October 2016 $12.6 million firehouse expansion referendum when more than 700 people voted and countless others left the King Street firehouse in frustration because of long lines.

There will be two seats available for this December’s commissioner’s vote. One seat is for a full term will be for the remainder of Buckley’s unexpired term.

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