ELIZABETHTOWN - A plan to save money by reducing the number of polling places in Essex County is being met with staunch opposition from county officials.
The Essex County Ways and Means Committee voted April 26 to urge the county's Board of Elections to reconsider a plan that would close up to four polling sites in four separate towns, thereby saving Essex County roughly $50,000.
Commissioners at the Board of Elections notified supervisors in each of the four towns late last week of their plan to reduce the county's expenses for new electronic voting machines now required by state regulations in accordance with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
The plan involves consolidating the polling places of less populous voting districts with those of other districts such that one less voting machine is needed to accommodate voters in both districts.
As of this year, all polling places in New York are required to utilize optical scan voting machines, which tabulate votes by scanning a paper ballot marked by voters.
Essex County has budgeted the purchase of several of the new machines, which cost about $11,500 each, with much of the funds coming from a federal HAVA grant. The need for up to four machines would be eliminated under the consolidation plan.
Still, most town supervisors agreed the savings is not worth the possible cost to voter turnout.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava offered a resolution opposing the Board of Elections plan and asking that all current polling places be kept open.
Scozzafava said one of the polling sites up for closure would be the one used in the hamlet of Mineville for town voting district three. He said he was adamantly opposed to the change as it would keep many voters in that district away from the polls.
"The whole premise behind this [HAVA] act is to encourage people to vote," he said, "and this doesn't do that."
Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas had a similar stance to the plan, which would require voters in and around Au Sable Forks to use the polling site in the hamlet of Jay.
"I have an issue with that, if only because there's not enough parking to accommodate the whole town," he said, arguing voters might not want to go to a more crowded polling site.
Westport Supervisor Dan Connell said he was opposed to the plan as it would aim to close a polling site in the hamlet of Wadhams. When a similar proposal was made two years ago, he said, residents of that voting district expressed overwhelming opposition.
"My board is completely against it," said Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee. "We have a tough enough time getting voters out, and to get them to drive another 10 to 12 miles is not going to help."
Election commissioners are not required to heed the board's request in their decision, which, according to Scozzafava, needed to be made prior to next week's Board of Supervisors' meeting.
Minerva Supervisor Sue Montgomery-Corey said voters in her single-district town already travel great distances to vote, and argued the plan might help solve the problem of recruiting and training new poll workers to replace those aging out of the job.
County Manager Dan Palmer said he advised against consolidation this year since voters will already be experiencing the change that comes with using the new optical scan machines.
Many supervisors agreed more input was needed from election commissioners about the plan and the savings it would create.
Republican Commissioner Derinda Sherman, however, was out of town at a state conference for election commissioners, and Democratic Commissioner David Mace was out of his office and could not be reached.
"I don't think it's responsible for us to vote on something we don't have the numbers for," said Montgomery-Corey, whose abstention made the vote in favor of the resolution all but unanimous.
When contacted by phone later that evening, Sherman said she could understand the controversy behind the plan, but felt it needed to be presented as a way for the county to reduce costs.
"I had said that I'm okay with not doing it so long as the Board of Supervisors understands the financial implications," she said.
Both Sherman and Mace would need to approve the consolidation plan for it to move forward.