Concerns Of Voter Suppression In Chenango County

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CORNING, NY (WSKG) – Chenango County will only have one open polling site for Tuesday’s primary. It is located at the sheriff’s office.

Amid protests across the country, some people are concerned about the location.

Former Chenango County resident Olivia Powell decided to take action when she learned her hometown consolidated all polling places into one site, staffed by law enforcement.

Gabe Altieri/WSKG

“This is about exposing voter suppression, that small-town politics shouldn’t be ignored, right,” Powell said. “It might be a rural area, you know, it might not have the highest population, but what’s happening there is indicative of what’s happening on a national scale.”

Officials said concerns over COVID-19 are at the center of the changes. According to the Chenango County website, sheriff’s deputies will administer temperature checks and ask voters questions at the door.

“Given all of the unknowns about the virus, all of the implementations of social distancing, of masks, of being able to provide a safe environment for people to vote in so that they’re not exposed as well as sanitizing after they leave,” explained Mary Lou Monahan, Chenango County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner. “So it was a culmination of many, many, many things to consider to make the decision.”

Working with the racial justice group, Color of Change, Powell created an online petition asking the county to make changes. She delivered it on Wednesday. Among her requests were to move day-of voting to a different polling place such as a town hall, school or municipal building other than the sheriff’s office; and to have sheriff’s deputies replaced with civilian poll workers.

Powell is worried about disenfranchisement and others agree. The petition received over 200 signatures. Jesse Bloom Bateman is one of the people who signed the petition. He grew up in Chenango County and recently moved back.

“Reading it there was a gut reaction of I don’t think I’d feel comfortable walking into a polling place that was in a sheriff’s department—as a black man and especially not during the current moment in American history,” Bateman said.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) said what is happening in the county is highly unusual.

“Putting police at polling stations isn’t necessarily a violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said Perry Grossman, Senior Staff Attorney with the Voting Rights Project. “But it can be an indication of potential voter suppression or intimidation.

There are three ways to vote in the primary elections on June 23: absentee voting, in-person early voting at the Board of Elections offices and in-person Election Day voting at the sheriff’s office.

Chenango County has nearly 20,000 registered Democrat and Republican voters.