Community members seldom attend Elmont Memorial Library board meetings, but a unanimous vote to discontinue early voting at the facility by the library board sparked outrage at the meeting on Jan. 25, as 40 people spoke out against the decision.
The board voted to end early voting at its meeting on Nov. 16, after electioneering during early voting in the run-up to last fall’s election, between Oct. 28 and Nov. 5, created “unsafe conditions” for library patrons, board President Livingstone Young said.
Electioneering is allowed beyond a circumference of 100 feet around a polling place. The library parking lot is 210 feet from the building, which leaves 110 feet for activists to vocally promote their candidates outside the library, in the lot.
“The people that were electioneering beyond the 100 feet in the parking lot were mostly causing the safety issues that could not be controlled,” Young said. “A child was almost hit by a car that had to drive around the crowd of people that were electioneering in the parking lot.”
Young said that the Board of Elections’ Democratic Commission, led by James Scheuerman, can commit to potential solutions only if the Republican commissioner, Joseph Kearney, agrees. Scheuerman said he was willing to work with the library board to alleviate its concerns, but the library board “found an issue at every turn” during a meeting with him on Jan. 23, Scheuerman said.
“There was no good-faith negotiating on their part,” Scheuerman said later of the library board.
Scheuerman said that Nassau police were responsive to the library when calls were made about electioneering and the associated safety concerns, but every time the police, or polling site supervisors, asked the electioneers to leave, they returned shortly afterward.
“It was like whack-a-mole,” Scheuerman said.
For nearly three hours last Thursday, impassioned, frustrated community members expressed the importance of having early voting at the library.
Trecia Wong, of Elmont, urged the board to reconsider its decision because, she said, early voting provides more access to the polls, especially for seniors.
“This is not just a matter of convenience,” Wong said. “It is an issue of inclusivity and equity. Furthermore, early voting sites are critical in minority neighborhoods. They ensure that all members have equal access to the voting process — a cornerstone of our democracy.”
Others said that discontinuing early voting could disenfranchise voters, especially in a general election year. According to the Board of Elections, off-year elections usually see turnout of 20 to 25 percent of registered voters, but that rate jumps to 70 percent or higher in general elections.
Since the library began offering early voting in 2021, more than 7,000 voters have cast ballots there, according to the Board of Elections. In 2023, 1,549 voters did so.
A petition from the library staff, and concerns expressed by library patrons during last fall’s early voting were considered when the vote was made to discontinue it there.
Scheuerman said afterward that the board voted without first speaking to the Board of Elections.
“As taxpayers, we believe that a decision of such magnitude should have been brought to the community’s attention through a survey or public discussion,” Wong said as other attendees applauded and cheered. “This would have ensured transparency and allowed us to voice our opinions and concerns.”
Board members said they wanted to continue hosting early voting, but would do so only if the Board of Elections provided the solutions they have requested.
Utricia Charles, president of the Argo Civic Association, said that the board “cannot be for and against something” at the same time.
“It is disappointing to me that I look around at a board that has many people of color on here, and you just came up with a decision because it’s a problem instead of trying to work it out,” Charles said. She expressed her frustration with the decision to shut down something as vital as early voting being made with “no input from the community.”
Elmont resident Sheldon Miekle said he felt as if the board’s decision was made covertly.
“It was leaked to us that early voting was shut down here, and I don’t see how anybody sitting in these chairs could think that that would not be a big deal,” Miekle said.
Asked repeatedly throughout the meeting how early voting could be reinstated, board members told attendees to reach out to the Board of Elections — and reiterated that the board would not reverse its decision, as the tension heightened.
This was an uncommon occurrence, Scheuerman said, because a public facility has “never drawn a line in the sand” like this. The only issue that would require the approval of both the Republican and Democratic Board of Elections commissioners, he said, would be if any additional funds were allocated to the site to hire private security or extra library staffing during the voting. That funding would need to be multiplied by 27 to provide the same support for other polling sites across the county.
“Democracy will not survive because a board gets together and surrenders because they feel threatened,” Parkhurst Civic Assoication President Phillips said. “You have this community behind you — there’s no question. This community is behind you, and we will work with you to ensure that early voting remains a core function that this library performs every time we need it.”
Community members echoed the sentiment that they would keep coming back to board meetings until the members vote to reinstate early voting at the library. The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 22, at 7 p.m.