Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS
From left: Councilman Paul Vallone, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Senator John Liu, Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, Councilman Barry Grodenchik, KCS Executive Director Linda Lee and BOE Queens Chief Clerk Amanda Berinato

Elected officials in northeast Queens celebrated on Friday the addition of a new early voting site in Bayside, just two weeks after urging the city’s Board of Elections to take action.

Last Friday, state Senator John Liu, Assembly members Nily Rozic and Ed Braunstein, Congresswoman Grace Meng and Councilman Paul Vallone gathered at Korean Community Services, one of several new voting sites in Queens.

In April, BOE released a map of 38 proposed early voting sites, which did not include a single site in northeast Queens. The lawmakers along with Congressman Tom Suozzi and Councilman Barry Grodenchik addressed a letter to BOE asking Commissioner Rosanna Vargas to add more early polling sites to northeast Queens.

In the letter, the lawmakers noted that the only early polling site is at the Al Oerter Recreation Center at 131-40 Fowler Ave., which would be nearly 10 miles away from some voters.

Following the elected officials’ outrage, BOE designated KCS at 203-05 32nd Ave. and the Cross Island YMCA at 238-10 Hillside Ave. in Bellerose as early polling sites, doubling the number of sites from seven to 14.

“It was perplexing and untenable to find out earlier this month that there were no places to cast early ballots in northern Queens, east of Flushing Meadows Park,” said Liu. “The point of voting reforms, including early voting, is to make the democratic process for all citizens easier, and to bolster the public’s trust and confidence in elections. We appreciate the Board of Elections listening and working with us to accommodate our constituents accordingly.”

The New York State Legislature passed voting reform laws this past January, which included early voting to strengthen the democratic process and increase low voter turnout. New early voting laws allow New Yorkers to cast their votes nine days before election day starting in November 2019.

“Passing voting reforms in the state Legislature earlier this year was intended to modernize our system and eliminate some of the challenges that voters have come to experience far too frequently on Election Day,” said Rozic. “After making it clear that overlooking northeast Queens was a step backward in meeting these goals, I am pleased that the BOE has considered our request and identified Korean Community Services in Bayside as an early voting poll site.”

In addition to Al Oerter, some of the original Queens early polling sites in the borough included Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City and Rentar Plaza in Middle Village.

“We’re very thankful that we were able to work with the representatives from the Queens community and come up with a solution for this particular neighborhood and that’s what we’re doing across the city,” said BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan. “It’s a daunting task, we’re hard at work at it. We’re not finished but we certainly will keep at it and we’ll make the early voting experience as welcoming and as accessible as possible.”

But some like Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause NY and founder of Let NY Vote, said that increasing early polling sites is just the beginning of voter reform in the state.

“While it’s good news that northeast Queens is getting an additional early voting poll site, it’s still far less than voters deserve,” said Lerner. “The BOE has completely failed to deliver borough wide voting centers which would make voting easy and convenient for anyone eligible in Queens. We will continue to keep the pressure to let New York vote!”

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