Attorney General James Sues Rensselaer County Board of Elections for Denying Communities of Color Access to Early Voting Sites
BOE’s Repeated Failure to Select Early Voting
Site for Troy Voters a Violation of State Law
AG James Seeks Court Order for Accessible Site for June 2021 Primary
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced a lawsuit against the Rensselaer County Board of Elections (BOE) and its commissioners, Jason Schofield and Edward McDonough, for failing to provide voters in Rensselaer County with adequate and equitable access to early voting poll sites, as required by the New York’s Early Voting law. The lawsuit — filed in the Rensselaer County Supreme Court — alleges that when BOE and its commissioners selected early voting sites, they ignored criteria that was required by law to take into account when determining poll sites. 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. As part of the lawsuit, Attorney General James is seeking a court order to force BOE to select a site that would provide Troy voters with fair access to early voting poll sites in advance of the June 2021 primary election.
The lawsuit follows multiple attempts by the Office of the Attorney General, as well as various advocacy, community, and faith-based organizations in and around Rensselaer County, to urge BOE to select additional or alternative early voting sites, but BOE has continuously declined to do so.
“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,” said Attorney General James. “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. We will continue to do everything in our power to ensure every New Yorker has fair access to the polls.”
Under New York election law, BOE and its commissioners are required to select early voting poll sites in a way that ensures “adequate and equitable access” to all Rensselaer County voters. To determine whether they have provided such access, the law requires that population density, travel time to the polling place, proximity to other early voting poll sites, public transportation routes, and commuter traffic patterns be taken into account. Troy comprises almost a third of Rensselaer County’s population, and many Troy voters, including Black, Hispanic, and low-income residents, rely on public transportation to exercise their right to vote. However, BOE has consistently selected early voting sites that provide only minimal access by public transportation, particularly for voters commuting from Troy’s northern neighborhoods.
These decisions were made despite the availability of centrally located sites in Troy that are preferable based on almost every factor BOE was required to consider.
The lawsuit seeks an order from the court declaring that BOE’s current early voting locations, and its decision not to place a site in a centrally located area within Troy, is arbitrary and capricious and must be annulled. Attorney General James is also requesting that the court order BOE to select a site that affords all Troy voters adequate and equitable early voting access based on the required statutory factors.
“The filing of Attorney General James’ lawsuit against the Rensselaer County Board of Elections is timely and needed,” said Renée Powell, president, NAACP Troy Branch. “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 that included the Black, brown, and low-income neighborhoods. In addition, the collaborative did the work to identify facilities to host early voting that met the BOE's stated site criteria. Senator Neil Breslin put forth legislation to address and mandate early voting sites in densely populated areas. 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.”
“Troy has ignored calls to equitably expand early voting access for far too long,” said Melanie Trimble, capital region chapter director, New York Civil Liberties Union. “When the Rensselaer County BOE finally added an early voting location in Troy during the 2020 elections, it was in one of the least convenient possible locations for Black and Latinx voters. This is textbook voter suppression, and it must be stopped. We are proud to stand with the attorney general to ensure that early access to the polls in Troy is robust and inclusive, and that New Yorkers are able to exercise our must fundamental and sacred right.”
“In a local election year, it is particularly important that everyone have an equitable opportunity to vote for their local representatives who might address their local concerns,” said Judy Meyer and Shirley Buel, co-presidents, League of Women Voters of Rensselaer County (LWVRC). “LWVRC has been working on this for over two years on behalf of those largely Black and brown registered voters and thanks the attorney general for continuing the effort to require the Rensselaer BOE to place an early voting site in downtown Troy.”
“As a native of the deep south, having participated in the Civil Rights movement, I am all too familiar with voter suppression,” said Bob Blackmon, second vice-president and board member, Justice Center of Rensselaer County. “In the city of Troy, it is perpetuated by a County Board of Elections that just can’t bring itself to locate early voting sites that are conveniently situated and easily accessible to people of color. I thank the attorney general for hearing our call for change and for taking action to stop this blatant and racist voter suppression.”
This case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Lindsay McKenzie and Amanda Meyer of the Civil Rights Bureau, under the supervision of Civil Rights Bureau Chief Jessica Clarke, with assistance from Data Scientist Jasmine McAllister and Senior Data Analyst Akram Hasanov under the supervision of Deputy Director Megan Thorsfeldt and Director Jonathan Werberg of the Research and Analytics Department. Associate Director of Legislative Affairs Casandra Walker and Investigative Specialist Mark Rudd provided additional assistance in this matter. The Civil Rights Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and is under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.