Two polling sites in Freeport will remain closed for the local village elections, set for March 16.
The Nassau County Board of Elections shut down two polling sites at senior public housing buildings — at 45 Wallace St. and 100 N. Main St. — for Election Day in November, instructing voters assigned to those sites to instead vote at the Freeport Recreation Center.
At a Village Board meeting on Dec. 28, Freeporter G. Dewey Smalls criticized the decision to keep the sites closed, saying it ensured that residents of a marginalized area would not be able to make their voices heard in a local election.
“This disenfranchises those voters . . . and the message it sends is, ‘We don’t want you to vote,’” Smalls said.
Deputy Village Attorney Robert McLaughlin explained that Freeport was following the logic of the Board of Elections. The county’s decision came after the organizations overseeing the two sites, the nonprofit Catholic Charities and the Freeport Housing Authority, urged the Board of Elections to change the polling locations to avoid the possibility of spreading Covid-19 at the senior housing buildings.
McLaughlin said that because seniors were at higher risk for the virus, the Board of Elections settled on the Recreation Center as an appropriate place for those residents to vote.
“Unlike the village, the county has the expertise and knowledge in this situation to determine the places safe for voters,” Village Attorney Howard Colton said at a meeting in October, when the issue was first raised.
Smalls, however, objected to the Board of Elections’ reasoning, and said it was too much to ask residents to vote at a new location, about a mile away from the ones they have voted at for decades, especially if they cannot drive.
According to navigation apps, like Google Maps, it takes 22 to 30 minutes to walk from the closed polling sites to the Recreation Center, and taking public transportation would add about five minutes to the travel time.
“How is it safer to ask seniors to go out and expose themselves to people in public than to have the polls open on the first floor, where they can vote quickly and you can clean and disinfect?” Smalls asked.
Village Trustee Carmen Piñeyro, who is running for mayor against the incumbent, Robert Kennedy, was also worried about the change of polling location.
During the November election, Piñeyro had reached out to County Legislator Debra Mulé to help residents get to the Recreation Center, but there is no guarantee that the same people who volunteered during a national election would be able to do so again during a village election.
Smalls and Piñeyro also floated the idea of letting residents assigned to the old polling sites vote at more nearby sites like Columbus Avenue School, Caroline G. Atkinson School or the firehouse at 15 Broadway.
“We have much closer voting sites available that we’re just skipping over,” Piñeyro said.
She also asked for the village to allow early voting to help seniors bypass any crowds on Election Day, but the board has yet to allow early voting in village elections.
Trustee Christopher Squeri also said the village should develop a different solution to help voters. “If there’s a way we can help out voters and the seniors [at the housing units], we should do it,” he said.
Kennedy said he would reach out to the Board of Elections again to see if they can recommend other polling sites to use. He had reached out to the board before, to no avail, but encouraged more residents to do the same to demonstrate the need for new polling sites.