Attorney General James Wins Lawsuit Forcing Rensselaer County to Increase Access to Early Voting Sites in Communities of Color

Court Orders BOE to Find Accessible Site in Troy for June 2021 Primary  

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that a judge ruled in favor of her office’s request for an injunction against the Rensselaer County Board of Elections (BOE) for failing to provide voters in Rensselaer County with adequate and equitable access to early voting poll sites, specifically in communities of color. Judge Adam W. Silverman of the Rensselaer County Supreme Court ruled that BOE’s decision not to place a site in a centrally located area within Troy is arbitrary and capricious, and must be annulled. The court ordered BOE to select a site by June 9th that would provide Troy voters with reasonable access to early voting poll sites in advance of the June 2021 primary election. The early voting period for New York State primary elections is June 12, 2021 through June 20, 2021.

“This decision is critical to our efforts to ensure that every New Yorker has fair access to the polls,” said Attorney General James. “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.” 

In May 2021, Attorney General James filed a lawsuit against the Rensselaer County 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 alleged 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. The lawsuit followed 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.    

“Access to early voting sites has and remains a priority of mine, which is why Senator Breslin and I passed statewide legislation last year to ensure that early voting sites were located in the highest populated community within each county,” said Assembly Member John T. McDonald III“The decision by the courts system this past Friday expands on that effort. I commend New York State Attorney General Tish James and her team for their efforts.” 

“We, of the Justice Center of Rensselaer County, are delighted with Judge Silverman’s ruling,” said Bob Blackmon, Justice Center of Rensselaer County“However, we regret that it took a decision of the court to force the publicly funded Rensselaer County Board of Elections to do the right thing and stop its blatant suppression of the vote of people of color.” 

“The announcement that the judge rule favors the lawsuit that Attorney General James filed against the Rensselaer County BOE commissioners is significant to the people of Troy,” said Renée Powell, NAACP Troy Branch. “For the past three plus years, a coalition of advocates for social justice worked tiredly to get an early voting site in downtown Troy. Many people were skeptical that this change in voting sites and protection of voting rights would happen in Rensselaer County. This fight went to the New York State Supreme Court. 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. This is one of many battles that we will fight to win the war to protect our voting rights. Thank you to all of the individuals and organizations that worked and fought on this campaign to make it a success! When we fight, we win!” 

“Today’s decision makes clear that there’s no place for voter suppression in Rensselaer County,” said Melanie Trimble, capital region chapter director at the NYCLU. “We are proud to stand with the Attorney General to ensure that early access to the polls is robust and inclusive, and that New Yorkers are able to exercise our most fundamental and sacred right.” 

“We are thrilled with Judge Silverman’s decision today,” said Shirley Buel, Judy Meyer, and Noreen McKee, League of Women Voters of Rensselaer County“It calls for equal access to early voting for minorities and low-income voters living in the heart of Troy, and bolsters and sustains our fragile democracy by protecting the right to vote for all citizens. As the great civil rights leader, John Lewis, said: ‘The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it.’ Now, thanks to Attorney General James and Judge Silverman, more citizens in Rensselaer County are able to “use it”.   

“During the COVID-19 outbreak, we worked feverishly find a way to get Troy voters safely transported to and from an early voting site that was far beyond their capacity to travel to,” said Pastor Byron Williams, Bethel Baptist Church. “It took major efforts just to help Troy voters participate in the early voting process during the last Presidential election. I am proud to know that thanks to the efforts of the community, and the work of the Attorney General’s Office, a site much nearer their own geographical area will now be provided. It is my opinion that whatever is best for any sector of our population is also good for the population as a whole.”

“At Unity House — founded to support people in need — and based on principles of social justice — we are heartened by this decision,” said Chris Burke, Unity House“Equitable access to voting — especially for communities of color — is critical to making both lives and communities better. Unity House is willing to assist in any way to ensure access to the polls.” 

“We, Troy for Black Lives want to thank the Troy NAACP and allies for their leadership, and the office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ Office for challenging voter suppression in Rensselaer County, ensuring Black, brown, and people with disabilities communities have full access to voting poll sites in centrally located areas across the City of Troy,” said Luz Marquez Benbow, Troy 4 Black Lives. “This serves as a precedent in Troy, and a model for what is possible when we as Black communities and allies make our voices heard because our votes matter. This electoral season our city is making history with five people of color running for office, our city is experiencing a rising back to the days of abolition in Troy. We are taking our city back and using all the tools to do so.” 

“This is a tremendous win for the residents of Rensselaer County, and especially the people of Troy, who need early voting the most,” said Deacon Jerry Ford, Troy Coalition of Black Leaders. “This is the beginning of real, substantive change in our county.” 

This case was 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.