New York AG Wins Early Voting Access Suit

Early voting is set to begin on June 12 and continue through June 20.

Included in a complaint against the Rensselaer County Board of Elections, these maps show population densities in the county (left) and the city of Troy (right), with four green dots showing the locations recommended for early voting locations, and three blue dots showing the less diverse areas that ultimately made the cut. (Image via Courthouse News)

ALBANY (CN) — A county in upstate New York has two days to pick new polling sites for early voting, a judge ruled Monday in a challenge brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

James accused the Rensselaer County Board of Elections of repeatedly failing to offer adequate early voting sites to Black, Hispanic and Asian American communities — groups that make up 30% of the City of Troy, which is located within the county. 

Rensselaer failed to designate a centrally located polling station in Troy, James said, threatening access for voters that have historically been disenfranchised. 

“Despite the availability of potential early voting sites in Troy — the most densely populated area of the county — BOE and its commissioners repeatedly refused to select an early voting site that was easily accessible to Troy residents, where the majority of the county’s Black, Hispanic, and lower-income communities reside,” James said in a statement announcing the lawsuit, which was filed May 27.

Early voting in the 2021 primary election is set to begin on June 12 and continue through June 20. 

In a ruling issued Monday, Rensselaer County Supreme Court Judge Adam W. Silverman annulled the county’s polling location determinations as arbitrary and capricious, finding that Rensselaer did not provide a rational justification for its process. 

County elections officials said they had used a “rigorous process” to select voting spots, informed by their “working knowledge of travel times, proximity, transportation routes, traffic patterns, population density, and other factors.” 

That wasn’t enough, Silverman ruled. 

“They provide no facts supporting this assertion and, more importantly, the basis of their ‘working knowledge,’” the judge wrote. “An agency cannot ignore data presented to it, exclusively rely on one data point that supports its determination without considering anything else, and then blindly adopt that position.”

By Wednesday, the county must select voting polling sites “that provide adequate and equitable access for all voters in Rensselaer County, including voters in the City of Troy,” and otherwise comply with state early voting laws, Silverman ruled. 

Rensselaer is also ordered to come up with, “at the earliest date practicable,” equitable polling sites for the 2021 general election. 

“This decision is critical to our efforts to ensure that every New Yorker has fair access to the polls,” James said in a statement Monday. “As states around the country seek to infringe on this most basic right and make it harder to vote, our work to protect and expand voting rights in New York is more important than ever. I will always fight to ensure that every New Yorker has the opportunity to make their voice heard at the polls.” 

James argued in her complaint that Rensselaer had, for two years, missed the point of “ground-breaking election reforms” passed in response to voter turnout rates among the lowest in the country. 

After the adoption of those 2019 election laws, the county first picked two early voting spots that are “wealthier, less diverse, less accessible by public transportation, and already enjoy higher rates of voter turnout.”

“Two years and several election cycles after the legislation’s enactment, the BOE in Rensselaer County, New York has continually violated this law, failing to designate early voting poll sites at locations that ensure adequate and equitable access for voters in Troy as it is legally required to do,” the 41-page complaint read.

The head of the Troy branch of the NAACP applauded the judge’s ruling. 

“Now, the voters of Rensselaer County will have an early voting site in the Troy downtown area where there is a higher concentration of voters than rural regions of Rensselaer County,” Renée Powell, president of the branch, said in a statement. ”This is one of many battles that we will fight to win the war to protect our voting rights.”

The suit named as co-defendants Commissioners Jason Schofield, a Republican, and Edward McDonough, a Democrat. The Rensselaer County Board of Elections did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday. 

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