Press-Republican

September 15, 2013

Editorial: Efforts to protect right to vote


Press-Republican

---- — Efforts are being made on several statewide fronts to ensure that eligible voters are able to cast their ballots as easily as possible on Nov. 4. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

Imagine going to the polls if you are physically disabled, for example. It takes a certain amount of courage to even undertake the journey and then navigate what could be a challenging effort in getting your vote recorded.

First-time voters, disabled or not, always find the process of voting potentially embarrassing and approach it with some trepidation.

The state, and especially the counties, have taken pains in recent years to smooth out the rough spots for voters. Voting places are county jurisdictions, but the New York State Attorney General’s Office oversees the general conduct of the local boards of election to be sure everyone’s civil rights are secured.

To that end, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office has established a hotline and email for voters to report any abridgment of those rights: 1-800-771-7755 and civil.rights@ag.ny.gov. The call may be made between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Also with voters in mind, Common Cause/NY, Reboot, and WebSava offer PollWatchUSA, which allows anyone with a smart phone to report problems at the polls on Election Day.

PollWatchUSA can be accessed by going to www.pollwatch.us. Voters click “Report a Problem” and fill out multiple-choice questions to identify the problem. Once submitted, the form will be reviewed by workers at Common Cause/NY, who will relay the information to the national Election Protection effort and, if necessary, the local Board of Elections.

The location of the report will be mapped onto the PollWatchUSA website at pollwatchusa.org and will later be assessed to determine trends. The site isn’t designed to offer a response to those who file reports.

The likelihood of encountering an incident in our three counties is fairly remote. The local boards of elections here have usually been responsive in listening to problems and creative in solving them.

In Clinton County, for example, 212 inspectors are hired for the day (at $110 apiece) to help usher voters through the process at the county’s 22 polling sites in the 54 voting districts.

In some counties, a language barrier can present a problem. The attorney general has ordered certain counties, mostly in southern New York state, to provide inspectors who can speak Spanish to facilitate voting there if English is not the familiar tongue.

The AG office is also especially attentive to physical barriers. Can voters in wheelchairs, for example, get to and into the polling places without difficulty?

The ability to vote is a right of which all Americans are proud.

Hats off to local boards of election, the state AG office and Common Cause for making an effort to guarantee that everyone can take advantage of it.