East End lawmakers have introduced a new law that will mandate early voting on Shelter Island, the only township on the Twin Forks not to have a dedicated early-voting polling place this year.
State Assemblymen Fred Thiele and Anthony Palumbo, as well as State Senator Ken LaValle have proposed a new law would require an early voting polling place to be set up in every town and city located in counties that have a population of 1 million or more.
According to a press release from Thiele’s office, last year the New York State Legislature authorized early voting statewide during a nine-day period before any general, primary or special election, That is scheduled to start in late October, in advance of the November 3 election.
However, the Suffolk County Board of Elections eliminated early voting site on Shelter Island, even though there are two more additional locations in Suffolk County as compared to last year. This action is discriminatory against residents of Shelter Island, Thiele believes, especially since they are literally separate from the rest of Long Island.
“At a time when ballot access should be as widely available as possible to all voters, the elimination of the Shelter Island early voting location will disenfranchise many,” Thiele said.
“It makes no sense to add two sites, yet remove the Shelter Island early voting location. Shelter Island, obviously, is only
accessible by boat. We need to ensure fairness in elections and bring back the Shelter Island voting location,” Palumbo said.
Thiele, Palumbo, and Thiele have also sent a letter to the Suffolk County Board of Elections for reconsideration. Ed Romaine, a former county legislator who is now the Brookhaven Supervisor, County Legislator Bridget Fleming, and Shelter Island Town officials have also sent letters.
“The response from the Republican County Election was a rambling screed attempting to defend this ill-considered decision. However, make no mistake, the Suffolk County Board of Elections is placing an undue and probably illegal barrier to early voting for Shelter Island,” Thiele added in an additional statement issued Tuesday afternoon.
Last year, Thiele was the chair of the Assembly Local Governments Committee, and helped add funding for counties to implement early voting when no funding was available in the executive budget. The legislature added $14.7 million in capital funding for electronic poll books and $10 million for operations, he said. “Everyone should have reasonable access to an early voting location, particularly during a pandemic, when many voters, especially senior citizens, do not want to stand in line at a crowded polling place on Election Day,” he said on Tuesday.
Shelter Island residents should have the same opportunity, Thiele said. “Shelter Islanders should not have to get on a boat, pay a ferry fare, and travel to the North Fork or South Fork just to have the option of voting early. Regardless of the intent, elimination of early voting on Shelter Island will suppress the vote,” he said.
Early voting in Suffolk County begins this year for the general election on Saturday October 24, and continues up until the Sunday November 1. The hours for early voting are Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday October 27 and Friday October 30, 12 noon to 8 p.m., Monday October 26, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Wednesday and Thursday, October 28 and 29, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
East Hampton Town’s early polling place is at Windmill Village at 219 Accabonac Road, while Southampton Town’s is at the Southampton campus of Sony Brook University at 70 Tuckahoe Road. Southold Town residents may cast ballots at the Southold Senior Center at 750 Pacific Street in Mattituck, and Riverhead Town residents will be sent to the Riverhead Senior Center at 60 Shade Tree Lane in Aquebogue.