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More Suffolk County Early Voting Sites, Not For Shelter Island

Julio Cortez

Densely populated communities in Central Suffolk County will have extra early voting sites that will be open 10 days before Election Day. That was done without extra funding from the cash-strapped state of New York.

An extra early voting site will be open starting October 24 in Huntington Station, Shirley and Brentwood — making a dozen sites available in nine Suffolk County towns for any resident to vote in.

Shelter Island is the only town missing an early voting site. It’s surrounded by water, so voters will need to catch a ferry to cast a ballot at an early voting site.

“We analyzed each of the 10 early voting locations from 2019 and only 3% of the votes cast early were cast from Shelter Island," said Nick LaLota, the Republican Commissioner of the Suffolk County Board of Elections. "It was by far the least patronized of early voting locations.”

LaLota said it costs Suffolk County $16 million to run an election in an average presidential year. This year he predicts it will cost $20 million with extra early voting, expanded absentee ballots and in-person polling sites — that’s without more money from the state.

New York is running at $14 billion budget deficit since stemming the coronavirus pandemic in the state. And although state lawmakers have expanded absentee ballots to all voters who mark COVID-19 as a reason to vote by mail, LaLota said local board of elections weren't given the necessary funding to navigate a complicated election year.

He said the county wants to do more with less.

“Here at the Suffolk County Board of Elections, a bipartisan agency, with most of our decisions, we strive to have the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” LaLota said.

A group of state lawmakers from eastern Long Island wrote to the Suffolk County Board of Elections last week, calling for the early voting site in Shelter Island to be returned. Assemblyman Fred Thiele said it was "another attempt to really repress turnout."

LaLota said it was a difficult, but bipartisan, decision.

"This bipartisan decision ... was in good keeping with doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people, and in fact brings early voting to minority populations in Suffolk County. I want to push back on his comments that somehow this was part of some master plan here at the Suffolk County Board of Elections to suppress the vote. The Suffolk County Board of Elections like all county boards of elections in New York state are bipartisan organizations. There's a check and balance to everything. And no one commissioner has more power than the other. And the decisions that get made here are made in a bipartisan manner and are doing so in good keeping with our democracy."

Still, LaLota said the 2,500 registered voters in Shelter Island have a right to cast a ballot and safely amid the pandemic. He recommends they vote by mail. Shelter Island has among the highest rates of absentee voting in the county.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.
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