POUGHKEEPSIE – The Dutchess County Legislature unanimously approved a resolution at their monthly board meeting on May 8 requesting home rule authority to extend polling hours for primary elections. Currently, polls are open from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. during primary elections in Dutchess County.
If approved by the State Legislature, this home rule request would empower Dutchess County to enact a local law extending the hours to 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., resulting in six additional morning hours for voters to go to the polls.
“This is a common sense measure that will ensure greater access to the polls for the commuters that we represent” said Legislator John Forman, the prime sponsor of the resolution. “Many of our constituents in this area commute to the city for work or are otherwise unable to get to the polls during the reduced hours a primary election offers. It is my hope that the State Legislature will approve our home rule request so that we may extend the hours of poll site operation the way that the other counties in the New York City commuter area have done.”
Currently, every county in New York State serviced by the MTA commuter railroad besides Dutchess has access to the voting booth between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. This includes Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, Westchester, Putnam, and Orange Counties in addition to the five boroughs in the City of New York. Erie County in western New York also employs extended hours on primary day.
“This issue comes down to basic principles of fairness” said Dutchess County Legislature Chairman Dale Borchert. “The voters of Dutchess County should have an equal opportunity to get to the polls as those living in other counties in the commuter region. As someone who commutes to work in my own professional life, I understand how difficult it can be for those who work an hour or more away from home and may rely on mass transit to get to the polls in the truncated time frame currently employed on primary day. This resolution represents one very important step we can take in order to improve voter participation.”
“As elected representatives, we ought to embrace solutions whenever possible that provides greater access to the polls” said Legislator Jerry Landisi, a co-sponsor of the resolution. “In many cases voter turnout numbers are disappointing in elections across the country, and they only drop further in primary elections, with turnout registering as low as 10% of those eligible to vote. Representing the City of Beacon, I know that for many of my constituents being able to cast their ballot in the morning hours on primary day would be most convenient. I believe that this measure, if approved, will go a long way towards increasing voter turnout not only in Beacon but across the county.”
If the home rule request is approved by the State Legislature, the Dutchess County Legislature will need to vote once more to enact the new polling hours. If enacted, this legislation would take effect for primary elections occurring after January 1, 2018.