The Kingston City School District last week revealed that it may have to consider reducing the number of polling places and cut polling hours for its annual budget school board vote in May with the news that the Ulster County Board of Elections will no longer provide voting equipment to school districts.
Because New York State will now hold all primaries in June, the Board of Elections has said that the shortened span between school district polling — Tuesday, May 21 — and primaries — Tuesday, June 25 — will not give them enough time to reset and recheck the machines. The push to introduce early voting, which would require polls to be set up two weeks ahead of the election.
School officials discussed the matter at the Jan. 23 school board meeting, a day before Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the change into law.
“I’m hoping that’s not the final decision, but it seems to be a reality that we’re facing,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino. “I’m working with my colleagues in the county to try and figure out why, and what maybe we can do to change some minds.”
The county Board of Elections previously provided polling equipment for all seven elementary schools in the district. If the district is forced to go it alone, Padalino said, a reduction in polling places is likely.
“We may be looking at three centralized sites,” he said, positing polling sites in the district’s middle schools and high school rather than the elementary schools.“[M. Clifford] Miller, [J. Watson] Bailey, Kingston High School, something along those lines.”
Padalino said the reduction in polling sites and polling hours would come down to the cost of holding an election, primarily because the district would have to purchase and maintain its own voting equipment.
“It’s a significant cost to us if we were to buy machines,” he said. “It costs us around $15,000 to run the election as we are now. It costs around $15,000 for one machine if we were to purchase them. And when you’re bringing in 3,000-4,000 people through the polls, you’re going to need more than one machine, obviously.”
Padalino said that the reduction in polling services would be regrettable, but also inevitable.
“It’s important for our community and the board and voters to know this,” he said. “If we do go to where we’re buying our own machines, which seems foolish that we would have to, we would be looking at reducing the number of polling places because of the cost of the machines. And we’d possibly even look at reducing the number of hours for voters. It would be inconvenient for our voters, and we don’t want that.”
Trustees said they were opposed to the possibility of making it more difficult to vote on the school budget and board.
“I understand that if we went this route that we would have to consolidate [polling places], but I really hope that we don’t reduce our hours,” said Trustee Robin Jacobowitz. “Accessibility is so important.”
Padalino said he and other school officials across the county are still trying to get the Board of Elections to change their minds.
“This is where we are,” he said. “[The school superintendents of Ulster County] have reached out to the County Legislature to see if there’s anything that can happen here, can we change our minds? Hopefully that could still be a discussion. But we have to prepare for the fact that maybe it won’t be, and the inconvenience it would be for our voters, and the expense it would be for our district.”
He added that the Board of Elections presumably still expects to hold the June voting in public schools like those in Kingston.
“We’ve tried to be very accommodating with the Board of Elections,” he said. “Our sites are used for the elections. It’s disappointing to see that there isn’t reciprocation.”
The superintendent added that the district won’t have much time to decide how to proceed.
“We have to have a solution very quickly,” he said. “We’re [talking about] moving polling places, changing polling hours … getting new machines. We have to have 60-day leeway for public notice.”
Barring holding a special meeting, the school board meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 6 is the last meeting on the district calendar outside of the 60-day threshold.