Changes in voting locations, inconsistent communication, unreliable mail service to deliver absentee ballots and applications along with mistakes by the Westchester Board of Elections has sparked concern about voting for this year’s primary elections.
To limit crowds at in-person polling sites due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State had announced in April that every citizen eligible to vote in the June 23 primaries would receive an absentee ballot application.
Voters needed to have had their absentee ballot applications received by their county’s Board of Elections by June 16. The ballots originally needed to be returned by the close of business on June 23, but less than two weeks ago Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that as long as the absentee ballots were postmarked by next Tuesday and received by the Board of Elections by June 30, the vote would count.
A notice was issued this week by the League of Women Voters of Westchester informing the public of the various changes and voting options, said the organization’s president Kathy Meany.
“For those that are still concerned that they have not received their absentee ballots or concerned about mail service or anything along that line, you can still go to a polling location and vote, but you have to go to your assigned location for early voting and also (June 23), either one,” Meany said.
However, last Thursday when voters started receiving their polling place information cards, there were several early voting polling locations and street addresses for those sites that were mismatched throughout Westchester, Meany said. The Board of Elections confused Mount Kisco, Mount Pleasant and Mount Vernon, she said.
For example, New Castle, Mount Kisco and Bedford residents were assigned to vote at the Mount Kisco Memorial Pool Complex at Leonard Park for early voting, but the street address showed 125 Lozza Drive in Valhalla, the location of the Mount Pleasant Community Center. The Valhalla site is only for Mount Pleasant and North Castle early voters.
A few Mount Pleasant voters reported receiving cards with the street address of 1 Roosevelt Square in Mount Vernon.
Likewise, Mount Vernon voters were provided with the Mount Kisco street address.
Reginald Lafayette, the Democratic commissioner for the Westchester County Board of Elections said last week that the printer retained to create the cards and mail them to voters made the mistake. New cards were to be mailed out the next day, he said.
Adding to the confusion, is that for many Westchester residents their early voting site is not their assigned voting location if they choose to wait until June 23, Meany said. She urged the public to vote early if they can, and if they must wait until next Tuesday to contact the Board of Elections.
“We’re getting that word out that registered voters, if you want to vote early – and we are highly encouraging it at this point – follow the directions to the building,” Meany said.
Ballots can also be hand delivered through next Tuesday to the Board of Elections, she said.
However, complaints have persisted. On Monday, Allison Fine, one of the Democratic candidates running in the 17th Congressional District primary, held a press conference outside the Board of Elections in White Plains to highlight the problems.
She said in addition to the mismatched addresses other issues included a failure to include voting times for the Westchester early voting on the early voting information cards, some June 23 polling locations had yet to be finalized and there has been a lack of transparency regarding how many absentee ballots have been mailed out and received.
“I am outraged by the lack of transparency and egregious errors the board has committed in preparation for the June 23 primary election,” Fine said. “The heart of our democracy is both the right and opportunity to vote, and that is being put at risk by the Board of Elections.”
Judy Sage, a Mount Kisco Democratic district leader, said she was fed up with the problems and the possibility for disenfranchisement. It’s of particular concern because many older voters often vote in person by habit or preference and may have a difficult time getting to the one polling location. Mount Kisco’s one in-person site on June 23 is also Leonard Park.
Sage said she is worried that the village’s large Latino population may be confused.
“In Mount Kisco this incident was more the straw that broke the camel’s back with respect to voting access and rights,” Sage said.
Early voting hours in Westchester are 12 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 18; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, June 19; and 12 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 20 and Sunday June 21.
All early voters in Putnam County will go to the Board of Elections located at 25 Old Route 6 in Carmel. Early voting hours there are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
For more information, contact the Board of Elections in Westchester at 914-995-5800 or visit https://citizenparticipation.westchestergov.com/