Olney offends elections commissioner with accusation of voter suppression

Published: Apr. 18, 2023 at 5:17 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Watertown City Council member Cliff Olney believes taking away certain polling sites is voter suppression. The board of elections not only says that’s not true, one commissioner takes offense to that statement.

A letter has been sent to some city voters to tell them their polling places have been moved.

Polling sites at Emma Flower Fire Station and Midtown Towers won’t open this election year. According to city data with the Community Block Grant program, both are areas that have a higher disabled population.

“When I saw after I overlaid the Community Development Block Grant onto the new voting districts, pretty much lines up with people that are disabled, people elderly, financially not as well off,” said Olney.

Olney says changes to polling sites aren’t being made on the city’s southside, which the same data shows has the least amount of those living in poverty.

“Nothing has been asked of the folks here in the southern part of the city. They’re not going to change any of their voting habits this time,” said Olney.

Jefferson County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Jude Seymour says it all comes down to numbers. Out of the 75 people who are registered to vote at Midtown Towers for example, 21 haven’t voted in any of the last ten general elections. And there are alternatives like early voting and absentee ballots.

“I take it very personally when someone accuses this office of voter suppression when we’re literally telling thousands of people the multitude of options where they can vote,” said Seymour.

Olney had also claimed county legislators did not know about the proposed changes to poll sites county-wide until it had been reported.

District 11 Legislator Bobby Ferris’ poll site in Felts Mills is among those paused. He says he was made aware via email in February but says it would have been nice to be given the heads up when the Board of Elections began the process.

“As soon as we got the new legislative lines, we did our lines so we could get this done as quickly as possible so we could be prepared for the upcoming election,” he said.

Anyone with questions is asked to called the Jefferson County Board of Elections.