Queens has only seven polling sites in state’s first early voting, and one lawmaker demands more

Photo by Mark Hallum

A Queens lawmaker wants the city’s Board of Elections to go back to the drawing board when it comes to early voting sites in the borough.

At a press conference Friday at LaGuardia Community College, state Senator Michael Gianaris called on the BOE to create more than seven early poll sites for voters in Queens, which has the second-highest population in the state (by county) and the largest geographic area in the city.

“Seven polling sites for more than two million people is an affront to democracy. The Board of Elections plan deserves a recount,” Gianaris said. “We passed this law to make it easier for millions of New Yorkers to vote. The Board of Elections needs to step up so more New Yorkers will vote.”

Under the state’s new early voting law, Queens residents will be able to cast their votes nine days before Election Day this year. But the BOE plan submitted to the state this week had just the seven locations, and “the few sites chosen are not even convenient for many residents,” Gianaris wrote in a letter to the Board of Elections.

He charged that BOE had “submitted the minimum necessary for legal compliance, in the process setting the stage for failure of the early voting process by only having one site for every 337,000 Queens residents.”

The preliminary list of locations chosen, according to Gothamist/WNYC are Rentar Plaza in Middle Village; LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City; York College in Jamaica; Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens; Resorts World Casino New York City at Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park; the Al Oerter Recreation Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park; and the Rockaway YMCA at Arverne by the Sea.

“Early voting should enable the most people possible to cast ballots prior to Election Day and that requires more sites, in more neighborhoods that are easily accessible to public transportation,” Gianaris wrote.

Councilman Costa Constantinides took issue with the BOE for placing a single polling site in western Queens, at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City.

“It is shameful that the Board of Elections has stymied the ability to vote early in western Queens,” Constantinides said. “We are on of the densest parts of the second-most populous section of New York City, yet our borough will have a paltry seven sites. Earlier voting is supposed to make our American right easier, not harder.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the BOE to use $75 million dedicated in his executive budget to open 100 early voting sites across the city.

“We now have a real opportunity in New York to strengthen our democracy and drive up participation in our elections,” de Blasio said. “”However, to take advantage of this opportunity, the Board of Elections must abandon their age-old practice of doing the bare minimum. They must do right by New Yorkers, and we’re giving them the funding to do it.”

During a City Hall hearing on April 30, the BOE’s executive director Michael Ryan said they were facing resistance from locations that did not want to be used for early voting because it consumed too much time. Each election will now be an 11-day event for early voting and a set-up day prior to Election Day.

“The Board of Elections is doing the bare minimum to implement early voting, especially in Queens where there are more voters assigned to each polling site than any other borough,” Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner said. “This is not only inexcusable, but likely a violation of state law. We need between 50-100 voting centers across the city to serve New Yorkers in non-traditional locations, close to transportation, borough-wide, and including city and state facilities. Both the city and the state have devoted millions of dollars to make early voting a success. It’s time for the BOE to step up.”

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