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NY Attorney General's Office Pressures Rensselaer County To Expand Early Voting In Troy

A "vote here" sign in English and Spanish on sidewalk
Paul Tuthill
A "vote here" sign in English and Spanish (WAMC file photo)

The New York State Attorney General’s Office is among those asking the Rensselaer County Board of Elections to provide additional early voting sites in the City of Troy. 

On April 9, the New York Civil Liberties Union wrote for the fourth time to the Rensselaer County Board of Elections asking officials to expand early voting in the Collar City.

Perry Grossman is the Senior Staff Attorney with the Voting Rights Project at the NYCLU.

“New York voting law requires providing equitable access to early voting and the existing sites have not provided equitable access. So hopefully with additional sites provided here and the data to show why it would be an improvement, the Board of Elections can finally settle on a better and more equitable early voting plan,” said Grossman.

Grossman argued that the early voting site established in Troy in recent elections – at a church on Spring Avenue – is not accessible to many city residents. The NYCLU provided in its letter maps displaying racial and population density data. Troy’s only early voting location is located in a predominantly white, less densely populated area.

The Office of New York Attorney General Tish James wrote to the Rensselaer County Board of Elections earlier this week, agreeing with the NYCLU.  The letter mentions the Office of the Attorney General’s previous concern over “the lack of a centrally located poll site in Troy where much of the County’s minority population resides, that is easily accessible by public transportation.”

The Attorney General’s Office is requesting by April 26th a written response from the Board of Elections on four proposed early voting sites.

Jason Schofield is the Republican Board of Elections Commissioner for Rensselaer County. He says the Board is in compliance with New York State early voting law.

“We do have an early voting site in the largest municipality, which is the City of Troy. It is on the bus line. It was used by thousands of residents during the early voting cycle last year for both the primary and general election,” said Schofield.

Schofield said he and Democratic elections commissioner Edward McDonough will visit each of the four suggested polling locations in the coming weeks, though speaking with WAMC, Schofield cast doubt on the viability of the suggested locations.

“There’s a lot that goes into to having a site. You have to find a place that’s going to take you for 10 days. You have to buy the equipment. So there’s not just like we’re not trying to be more open…it’s just finding the workers, finding the locations. We had a lot to do to find a location in the City of Troy. We are losing polling locations constantly. Especially with COVID it’s even worse,” said Schofield.

Schofield questioned the feasibility of locating an early voting site at Unity House, a human services agencies headquartered in the city’s North Central neighborhood, as one example.

“Unity House, which is right next door to the Conifer Park rehab center, where people go in for treatment for substances abuse, will be waiting outside. You’re going to have people lining up and staring at them as they go into their Anonymous meetings,” said Schofield.

Schofield added he does not forsee any change in early voting locations ahead of the primary in June.

Unity House has offered itself as an early voting location. In a statement Thursday, Nina Nichols, Assistant Director of Development at Unity House, said:

“Many of the families we serve in Troy have barriers to transportation and need a location that is easily accessible to perform their right to vote.”

In October 2019, officials gathered at Unity House to announce a state bill to establish an early voting location in Troy – the county’s largest community – which was lacking at the time. The bill was signed in 2020.

Speaking Thursday, State Senator Neil Breslin, who sponsored that bill along with State Assemblyman John McDonald, a fellow Capital Region Democrat, said it’s the responsibility of officials to ensure equal access to polling locations.

“Regardless of age, creed color, so it’s a fair election,” said Breslin. “If they’re not doing that – and I hadn’t had the chance to review this letter –if they’re not doing that than they should discuss further what other sites are available. We did the legislation with the purpose that everyone can vote and we’re not going to be compared to Georgia.”

Officials in the City of Troy previously offered to pay for an additional polling site.  Democratic Mayor Patrick Madden says there’s a need.

“I’m grateful for the location that is in the City of Troy, but I think there ought to be located in the denser section of the city,” said Madden.

Democrats in the Republican-majority Rensselaer County Legislature on Thursday announced they plan to introduce a measure to require the Board of Elections to provide a centrally-located early voting site “in the densely populated area of the City Troy” accessibly by public transit.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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