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Suffolk Closeup — Early voting begins Oct. 26

An historic event is coming to Suffolk County and the rest of New York State in coming weeks: early voting. Instead of going to your polling place on Election Day, you’ll be able to go to a variety of places in Suffolk and vote early. The early voting period starts on Saturday, Oct. 26 and ends on Sunday, Nov. 3. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5 this year.

“Voting is a fundamental right and an essential part of our democracy, but regrettably, far too many registered voters do not participate in elections due to time constraints. To provide New Yorkers with additional time to make it to the polls, the State Legislature has authorized early voting in New York during a nine-day period before any general, primary or special election,” comments State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), a co-sponsor of the legislation facilitating early voting.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the measure and said: “At a time when the federal government is doing everything it can to disenfranchise voters, we are making it easier for New Yorkers to participate in the democratic process and crack down on corporate influences in our election.”

New York State isn’t alone. All over the United States there has been a move toward early voting. The time periods and arrangements for where voting takes place vary. The National Conference of State Legislatures details the rather complex pattern on a website headed “State Laws Governing Early Voting.” www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/early-voting-in-state-elections.aspx

The list starts with Alaska where early voting begins 15 days before the election, continues to Arizona which provides for 26 days before election and goes on to Arkansas (15 days), California (29 days), and deep down there is Vermont (with a whopping 45 days).

(Absentee voting, for which an excuse is needed, is mixed with straight-out early voting.)

The action by the New York State Legislature came in an “election reform” package that included requiring primaries for state and federal offices to be scheduled on the same day. This is seen as saving money, increasing turn-out and reducing voter confusion. Virtually the entire nation did this — with New York State the only state in the country to hold federal and state primaries on different days last year.

The reforms included, too, allowing young people to pre-register to vote when they are 16 and 17 — with their registration designated as “pending” until they become 18.

Key to passage of the reforms was having a Democratic majority take over in the State Senate where voting reform efforts died in recent years.

Any registered voter in Suffolk County may cast an early ballot in a variety of locations.They may vote at any of the early voting sites no matter where they reside.

On Shelter Island, the site will be Shelter Island Youth Recreational Center/American Legion at 1 Bateman Road.

The times early voting locations are open on the Island are Saturday, Oct. 26 and Sunday, Oct. 27, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Monday, Oct. 28, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday, Oct. 29, from noon to 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Oct. 30 and Thursday, Oct. 31, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday Nov. 1, from noon to 8 p.m.; and Saturday Nov. 2 and Sunday, Nov. 3, from 10 a.m. to3 p.m.

However, these times are subject to change and updates can be found on the website of the Suffolk County Board of Elections at suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/BOE/Early-Voting-Information or by calling 631-852-4500.

There have been various calls through the years for changes in voting in the United States to encourage a larger turn-out. One proposal has been to change Election Day to a weekend to make voting easier than having it during the work week. Another suggestion is to make Election Day a national holiday. Another suggestion is to move some or all voting to mail, and, added these days, online voting. Having early voting is a big advance.

As the website VOTE EARLY NY (voteearlyny.org) declares: “For the first time in history, New Yorkers have a choice: Vote Early Oct. 26 through Nov. 3 or Vote on Election Day Nov. 5.”