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Dems ask Essex County to open 2nd early voting site

Voters fill out ballots in an early voting session Oct. 28, 2019, at the Essex County Public Safety Building in Lewis. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

The Essex County Democratic Committee is requesting that the county find a place and staff for a second early voting site.

The request comes in the third year of early voting for this state. It also comes as the Essex County Board of Elections prepares to relocate the county’s sole early voting station to the town of North Elba, in the northwest part of the county. The last two years it has been in the town of Lewis, a few miles north of the county seat of Elizabethtown where the county has a public safety complex. The next primary election is coming up in June.

The move was mandated by a new state law signed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo late last year. The law requires that each county have at least one early voting place located within its municipality with the highest population. For Essex County, that municipality is the town of North Elba, which includes the village of Lake Placid, part of the village of Saranac Lake and the hamlet of Ray Brook.

In a news release, the Democratic Committee expressed concern that voters from the southern end of the county — Ticonderoga, for example, in the southeast corner — would now have to travel upward of three hours round-trip to vote early in North Elba.

“Some voters have concerns about mailing their ballots, due to recent delays in the U.S. mail service,” the committee wrote. “Voting in person reassures them that their ballots will be received on time and counted on Election Day.

“We request that the Board of Elections locate and staff an early voting site so all voters who want to, can take part in early voting. We also request that the Board of Supervisors provide funding necessary to support an early voting site in the southern part of the county.”

Because of the number of registered voters in Essex County, this county is only required by law to have one early voting site. As of this past November, there were 25,837 active registered voters in Essex County, plus 1,812 registered voters considered inactive. The state requires one early voting site for every 50,000 voters.

When searching for a location for an early voting site, the Board of Elections has to consider a few factors. Primarily, the location has to be accessible and secure for several days. The Board of Elections has not yet announced where in North Elba the site will be.

The decision to open a second site would lie with the Board of Elections, according to Democratic Election Commissioner Sue Montgomery-Corey; however, to be able to open a second site, the board would need the county Board of Supervisors to agree to provide the funding for it.

The idea of opening a second site has been under consideration for some time. So why hasn’t the Board of Elections opened another site in the past? Montgomery-Corey said it’s partly because the previous site in Lewis was a “good facility.”

“But with the requirement that we make the move to the town of North Elba, that means that for many of the voters, particularly in the southern end of the county, they’ll have a two- to three-hour commute if someone wanted to vote early,” she said.

“We’ve been talking about it and thinking about (adding a second site),” Montgomery-Corey added. “We would definitely need resources to do that.”

Republican Election Commissioner Allison McGahay declined to comment.

Altogether, 2,519 people traveled to Lewis to cast their ballots during the nine-day early voting period last year. Presidential election years almost always draw more voters than local election years, and the 2020 election drew the most votes in U.S. history. In 2019, the first year early voting was available in New York state, just 294 Essex County residents voted early in person.

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