AG sues RensCo Board of Elections for denying access to early voting sites

Elections

ROCHESTER, NY – SEPTEMBER 20: New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a news conference about the ongoing investigation into the death of Daniel Prude on September 20, 2020 in Rochester, New York. Prude, who is Black, died March 30 after being taken off life support following his arrest by Rochester police. (Photo by Joshua Rashaad McFadden/Getty Images)

TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Letitia James, the Attorney General of New York, is suing the Rensselaer County Board of Elections (BOE) for not choosing an early voting site for communities of color in Troy. James says that this amounts to denying voting access to voters in those communities, in violation of state law.

“Our vote is one of the most powerful tools we have in our democracy, and it is the responsibility of government to ensure that every person with the right to vote is able to do so without hardship,” James said in a written statement. “The Rensselaer County BOE has repeatedly refused to make early voting sites widely accessible to residents, unlawfully denying low-income and communities of color fair and equal opportunity to vote.”

James says the BOE repeatedly failed to provide adequate and equitable access, ignoring required criteria when determining poll sites. She says they refused to select a site that would be easily accessible to residents of Troy—the densest area of the county, where the majority of its Black, Hispanic, and lower-income communities live.

“Troy has ignored calls to equitably expand early voting access for far too long,” said Melanie Trimble, the director of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Region chapter. “This is textbook voter suppression, and it must be stopped.”

The city represents nearly one-third of the county’s total voters, and many rely on public transportation in order to vote. Population density, travel time to the polls, proximity to other early voting poll sites, public transportation, and commuter traffic are legally required to considered when designating locations.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, despite appropriate sites that fit the bill, the BOE consistently assigned polling places where there was minimal access to transportation for voters commuting from northern Troy. James says that her office—along with multiple local advocacy, community, and faith-based organizations—was continuously rebuffed when urging the BOE to pick appropriate sites.

“For more than three years, members of the community have communicated with BOE to explain the hardship caused by their selected early voting sites. A collaborative of Troy leaders did the work to present facts of the need for a site in Troy that provided equitable access to the majority of the community members,” said Renée Powell, president of the NAACP Troy Branch. “Numerous earnest attempts were made to get the BOE to correct the problem of placing early voting sites in remote regions in Rensselaer County. My hope for this suit is to get equitable vote sites so that Rensselaer County residents can freely exercise their right to vote. It is time for a change.”

James announced the lawsuit against the BOE—and commissioners Jason Schofield and Edward McDonough—on Thursday. She says she is seeking a court order for an accessible site in Troy by the June 2021 primary, and that the current locations are “arbitrary and capricious and must be annulled.”

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