Supervisor Gerry Siller is ready to take his demand for early, in-person voting on Shelter Island to the next level.
Getting no satisfaction from the Suffolk County Board of Elections (BOE) decision to have the polls open early, Mr. Siller said he’s preparing to sue the board.
“We’ll file an article 78,” Mr. Siller told the Reporter on Monday afternoon, referring to a proceeding that asks a court to review a decision by an official or administrative agency that the plaintiff believes is wrong and/or illegal.
Without a reversal from the BOE, Shelter Island will be the only town in Suffolk County without in-person voting starting next month, prior to Election Day, Nov. 3.
After weeks of protesting the decision, Mr. Siller said he’s ready to force a thorough explanation through the courts from the BOE Commissioners Nick LaLota, a Republican, and Anita Katz, a Democrat.
The nearest places to vote early for Islanders are Southampton, Southold or Riverhead, beginning Oct. 24. In a letter making his case to the commissioners on Sept. 23, Mr. Siller wrote: “We would also reiterate that in the last election approximately 40% of Shelter Island residents took advantage of the [Shelter Island] early voting location … this [decision] will have the effect of disenfranchising Shelter Island voters. We have not yet received a response from you to our prior correspondence. At this time we would request a response to our request by September 17, 2020 or we shall consider it to be a denial.”
As of Monday afternoon, Mr. Siller had not heard back, after calling several times to speak with a commissioner.
Cost cutting is the reason given that would force residents off-Island for early in-person voting.
In a late August letter to Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), who has advocated strongly for Island voters having early access to the polls, Commissioner LaLota wrote that “the data shows county taxpayer dollars can have a greater impact elsewhere. In 2019, the Board spent 10% of its early voting budget on the Shelter Island early polling place, but it only counted for 3% of the early vote turnout. Likewise, it was the least used early polling place in Suffolk County by far. Of Suffolk County’s 987,927 registered voters, 2,566 or 0.26% come from Shelter Island. These factors were the major considerations surrounding the bipartisan decision to close the Shelter Island Early Voting location so we could free up resources to open other locations in Brentwood, Huntington Station and Shirley.”
Along with Mr. Thiele, all of the Island’s county and state representatives have written to the BOE to open the polls early here. Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has not joined them, only giving a written statement to the Reporter when asked about the issue: “During this unprecedented election year, everyone must work together to ensure Long Islanders have access to exercise their right to vote.”
Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) also sent a letter to the commissioners, making the case for the Island. (Mr. Palumbo is running for a State Senate seat, and if he wins, will represent Shelter Island.)
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, who once represented the Island in the county Legislature, also went to bat for his former constituents, writing the BOE.
The Island’s state representatives, Mr. Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) made the case of geography to the BOE, as did Mr. Siller, writing that the Island is “separated from the rest of Long Island, with the mainland and all other early voting sites solely accessible by boat. Removing this early voting location will force residents … in early voting in the upcoming general election to board a ferry to a polling location in another town. This places an undue burden on residents of Shelter Island, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, where elderly voters and those in higher-risk categories will face increased risk of exposure if they choose to participate in early voting.”
Mr. Thiele has gone public with media outlets on his demand to have open polls on the Island before Election Day. He questioned the BOE’s motives, telling WSHU, “This is just another form of another attempt to really repress turnout.”
In a strongly worded letter, Mr. LaLota returned fire, writing that the “bipartisan decision made by the Board was motivated by a scarcity of resources, a desire to provide the greatest good for the greatest number of voters and was in good keeping with our nation and state’s democratic (small d) principles. The decision you said came with bad intentions was a bipartisan one and contrary to your allegation, was never the culmination of any attempt to suppress the vote … Making such an accusation without any research into the Board’s decision-making process whatsoever suggests your desire for personal exposure exceeds your desire to understand and solve the issue. Make no mistake, actual efforts to suppress the vote should be publicly condemned. False accusations of the same should be called out, too. And your casting doubt on our election process and elections officials where such doubt is not deserved tends to undermine our democracy.”