Concerns over voter accessibility after some polling sites change locations

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As early voting wraps up and primary day inches closer, some community members and even the mayor of Rochester are questioning how changes made to some polling locations this year might impact voter accessibility.

Seniors living in Seneca Towers used to have a polling location in the lobby of the complex. This year, however, they will be required to go more than a mile away to cast their ballot and they aren’t the only ones facing change. Voters in 71 districts will have new polling locations for this year’s primary election compared to the last primary in 2019. 

“The voting sites have been reduced and removed from more traditional locations such as churches community groups and centers and especially seniors housing,” Rochester citizen William Bauer said.

36 sites in total have moved locations. Bauer looked into the numbers and found 80% of the changes are in communities of color or senior housing — the communities most impacted by disabilities or lack of transportation.

“It may discourage them or make it so difficult for them to vote, that their votes might not be cast,” Bauer said.

In a press conference on Thursday, Mayor Lovely Warren called upon the Board of Elections to reverse the change in locations, claiming the moves “disenfranchises city voters.”

“They are moving these polling places to stop us from voting,” Warren said. “Making it so the poor, the elderly and disabled can’t get to the polls. It’s outrageous and today I’m calling it out. The Board of Elections must immediately act to return these polling places to where our poor, minority and elderly voters reside.”

Board of election commissioners however, say out of the 36 changed sites, 19 declined participation and some were permanently closed. They say the pandemic has a lot to do with the changes as well. 

“Of the 36 locations that changed, 19 of those sites declined participation with us. So for whatever reasons they had still issues remaining with COVID, just not ready yet, they declined participation,” Democratic Commissioner board of Elections Jackie Ortiz said.

“None of this and the decisions we make are politically motivated at all” Ortiz said. “It is simply based on the current landscape and the restrictions and the guidelines we are given based on changes in law, based on willingness to participate from various sites.”

The commissioners say most of the changed sites are within walking distancing of old locations, and voters were notified of the changes. 

Voters like Bauer, who is hoping to raise awareness on voter accessibility is speaking-out on changes.

“Every candidate, every citizen, every voter should be behind this and making sure that we’re making voting accessible, equitable fair, and open,” Bauer said.

In total, 95 polling locations are open for early voting across the city, any location that has been changed had been posted online since Monday, May 3.

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