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Village of Lancaster election concerns revisited

BY: Jennifer Lysiak, Lancaster Editor | January 31, 2013

LANCASTER- A few weeks ago, the Lancaster Village Board through a majority vote agreed to decrease the number of polling places during the village election, which will be held Tuesday, March 19, and the concerns of whether or not residents would be notified of their new polling place, as well as choosing a school as a voting location, continued during Monday night’s meeting.

Russ Sugg, who has been a village resident since 1991 and who is running for a seat on the village board, made the claim that the board was restricting a person to run in this village election.

“You have changed the poling places from seven down to three,” said Sugg. “I’m fine with saving money. You’re going to save about $1,200, but the board of elections sent out postcards to everyone in the village, in the town, saying here’s your voting location [for the November election] and months later we’re going to have a new election and the majority of people are going to show up to where they voted last time, which is now the wrong location.”

Village Trustee William C. Schroeder explained changing the number of polling place has been urged by the Erie County Board of Election for years, because it is more efficient.

“Whether we did it two years ago, four years ago, or six years ago, the results would have been the same. We would have dropped down in polling places,” said Schroeder.

Depending on where a resident falls in a district, the polling places include the Lancaster Youth Bureau, the Lancaster Municipal Building, and Central Avenue School.

Sugg told the board that the village needs to notify the voting population, after he verified it with the board of elections.

“I’m finding out that you’re not going to send out any postcards or notify the public,” said Sugg. “I’ve been walking door-to-door notifying people where they have to vote. I shouldn’t be doing your job. People don’t know where to vote. This is a travesty.”

At a previous meeting the board was unsure whether they were responsible for sending out notifications to residents or if it was the role of the Erie County Board of Elections.

Village of Lancaster Attorney Arthur Herdizk said they were going to look into the matter and if the board of elections is not going to notify the voters of the updated voting placed then the village was going to take that under advisement and response accordingly.

“This board made these decisions over my objection, said Village Trustee Edward Marki. “I asked after it was done and put into law, could we find a way to mail out notifications and they said it was too expensive, not our problem.”

Village of Lancaster Mayor Paul M. Maute intervened stating that was not true.

“When a municipality such as a village, whether it is East Aurora, Lancaster, or Williamsville, changes its polls it is our responsibility to our residents to inform them of the location, especially two months before an election that’s going to change the mayor for the first time in 20 years,” explained Marki.

In a Wednesday afternoon phone conversation, Village Trustee William Schroeder said the board of elections will notify residents by mail where their new polling place will be, and this information was verified by Erie County Board of Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr.

“We want to encourage voters. This is people’s rights. We’re not trying to hide anything,” said Schroeder, a statement in response to Marki’s claim of the board trying to hide the change in polling places.

Sugg also disagreed with the board’s decision to host a polling place at Central Avenue School. The former school is occupied with a nursery school and other offices, which this was a decision Marki also opposed too.

“You had seven choices of location and one you picked is a school where three and four years old are going to be exposed throughout the whole voting day,” remarked Sugg. “It’s been that way in the past with a small population, but you’re tripling the amount of people who are going to be going through that school.”

Schroeder said Marki keeps insisting because there are children in the building they’re safety is at risk.

“I would have to think that if the police department and the school district doesn’t think it is a risk; he’s kind in the minority making these claims,” said Schroeder.

Schroeder continued to explain the children are sequestered at the west side of the building and they even have their own bathroom. On the day of the election, they just won’t be allowed to use the gym.

“The contact they will have with the public will actually be minimal,” Schroeder remarked.

Lancaster Lt. Det. James Robinson, who was present to speak on the matter, said Central Avenue School being a district building is handicap accessible, a concern that was brought up by Marki stating previously the handicap ramp is a 100 feet to the back of the building, making it further for those to walk and vote.

“It has two entryways to the building,” said Robinson. “If you park in handicap, you are about 50 feet, maybe 75 feet away from where the polling is. You walk into the front door of the main entrance of the school the polling is about 15 feet away from the door. That is one of the most accessible buildings in this village. This village is two miles square. It’s tiny. We shouldn’t even have three, go down to two, one of the north side and one of the south side.”

Marki questioned Robinson about the current initiative across New York State and other states as well to increase safety at schools, especially during times of polling.

Robinson responded by saying, there is an initiative around the world and he is a part of the initiative in Lancaster School District to try to tighten up security.

“When I say security, I don’t mean armed people. I mean refining what we have,” remarked Robinson. “We want buzzers on doors, cameras, and we want better security for the front doors instead of the big glass windows. By you [Marki] implying that taxpayers that are going to vote is going to make the school unsafe I’ll take personally offense too, because now what you’re saying is taxpayers are violent people.”

Marki said he is not in any way suggesting that voters are violent people, but if they have a choice to have a building without three-and-four-year-old children or a building with three-or-four-year old children, he would think the building without the children would be a safer location.

Robinson also commented as a volunteer fireman and past chief of the village fire department the North End Hall, which was used as a polling place, does have great accessibly.

“However, do I want my 80-year-old parents or anyone else with small children walking across a fire hall parking lot when the fire sirens are going,” questioned Robinson.

Marki, who recently held a public safety meeting with the board in regards to all of his concerns, said they did speak about what policies and procedures they could implement to make the location as safe as possible.

“If I can avoid putting one child at risk, no matter how small the risk is, as the chair of public safety committee, I am going to make every effort to do so,” remarked Marki, who has tried to contact the chief of police and has spoken to the mayor.

“I’m still going to continue to hope that we can at least increase patrol or possibly send a car around the area. I’m just going to continue to work,” Marki said.

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