NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that a court ruled in favor of her lawsuit against the Rensselaer County Board of Elections (BOE) and ordered the BOE to select new early voting poll sites, following its failure to provide voters in the county with accessible early voting poll sites, specifically in communities of color. The Appellate Division, Third Department held that the BOE failed to adequately address whether selected early voting sites were accessible by public transportation and that the chosen sites likely did not provide convenient access for many Troy residents. The court ordered the BOE to select sites that would provide Troy voters with adequate and equitable access to early voting poll sites by September 3, 2021.
“Today’s decision is a critical step to ensure fair access to the polls for all eligible New Yorkers,” said Attorney General James. “While places like Georgia and Texas continue to make it harder for communities of color to vote, New York must continue to safeguard the right to vote throughout the state. I will always fight against any attempt to infringe on this most basic democratic right.”
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 New York’s Early Voting law. The lawsuit alleged that when the BOE and its commissioners selected early voting sites, they ignored criteria that were required by law to take into account when determining poll sites. Despite the availability of potential early voting sites in Troy, the 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 the BOE to select additional or alternative early voting sites, but the BOE has continuously declined to do so.
“Last year, I was proud to be the sponsor of legislation that required municipalities with the highest population in each county to have at least one polling place designated for early voting,” said State Senator Neil Breslin. “The decision today by the Appellate Division, Third Department, strengthens this bill, and ensures the voters of Rensselaer County have proper and decent access to early voting sites. I applaud the Attorney General for being proactive to ensure that our voting is fair and equal.”
“Access to early voting sites has been and remains a priority of mine to make sure it is convenient for voters to cast their votes and make their voices heard,” said Assemblymember John T. McDonald III. “Today’s decision expands on that effort and will ensure the early voting process is fair and equitable for everyone in the Troy community. I commend New York State Attorney General Letitia James and her team for their efforts.”
“Today, the Third Department confirmed the obvious: there’s no place for voter suppression in Rensselaer County,” said Melanie Trimble, capital region chapter director at the NYCLU. “With today’s decision, the BOE can no longer make the cost of early voting prohibitive for those who need it the most but can least afford it. We are proud to stand with the Attorney General James in the fight for robust and inclusive early access to the polls in Troy, and wherever New Yorkers’ voting rights are at risk.”
“The NAACP Troy Branch is pleased with this decision,” said Renée Powell, President NAACP Troy Branch. “The voters of the community are going to be better served because of this decision. This is a step in the right direction to end voter suppression, and we thank Attorney General James for her work on this issue.”
“The League of Women Voters of Rensselaer County is thrilled with this unanimous decision by the Appellate Court to protect the rights of minorities and low income voters by bringing early voting into the heart of downtown Troy,” said Shirley Buel, Judy Meyer, and Noreen McKee, League of Women Voters of Rensselaer County. “As we have for over a hundred years, the League will continue to fight to protect our democracy and any attempts to suppress the right to vote. We thank Attorney General James for her unwavering dedication to the rights of voters.“
“On behalf of the Bethel Baptist Church and our surrounding communities, I would like offer a special word of gratitude and appreciation to Attorney General James and to all who played a role in creating a collective effort that has advanced the cause of justice, fairness, and equality for Troy’s citizens of color,” said Pastor Byron Williams, Bethel Baptist Church. “As a church that serves all people, we stand ready and willing to assist in whatever way needed to advance the execution of this court order.”
“This is amazing news. As we continue our fight for justice and equality, victories like this give us the momentum to strive even harder,” said Deacon Jerry Ford, Troy Coalition of Black Leaders. “And the fact that this decision came on the heels of the passing of H.R. 4 makes it a clear sign that we here in Rensselaer County are lined up with the vision of a better Nation. We stand with Attorney General James in the continued fight to ensure that no community is disenfranchised.”
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 appeal was handled by Assistant Solicitor General Sarah Rosenbluth under the supervision of Deputy Solicitor General Steven C. Wu and Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood of the Division for Appeals and Opinions. 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.
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