Public spaces and cultural institutions sought for additional polling sites

Photo by Ajay Suresh, via Wikipedia Commons
Madison Square Garden will be used as a polling site for 60,000 New Yorkers this election season. Good government groups and lawmakers want other public spaces and cultural institutions that receive public funding and tax breaks to be available for early and regular voting this fall.

As Election Day approaches in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many cultural institutions in New York City are being called upon to become polling sites to ensure that all New Yorkers can cast their ballot safely. 

Only a few institutions currently act as polling sites for both early and Election Day voting, such as the 92Y, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Museum of the Moving Image. Others, such as the Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, stepped up this year to serve as polling sites.

However, a coalition of good government groups, state and city elected officials and candidates running for office are all calling on more cultural institutions to open their doors to voters this fall.

Common Cause NY, a non-partisan, good-government watchdog group, as well as Senator Liz Krueger, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee NYC Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, and candidates running for Manhattan Borough President are calling upon more cultural institutions to become polling sites for voters this fall.

“It is critical that New Yorkers be able to safely exercise their right to vote,” Krueger said. “Ensuring we have enough polling places, and that those locations are large enough to follow COVID safety protocols, is a necessary step to make polling places accessible to anyone who chooses to use them. By exempting schools from use as Early Voting sites, but requiring the participation of cultural institutions that receive significant state grant funding, we can protect both our democracy and the health of our people.”

New York state gives approximately $580 million in annual tax breaks to more than 40 of these cultural institutions throughout the city, according to an analysis done by  WNYC. 

Institutions are supposed to act as polling sites if called upon to do so, in exchange for receiving these tax breaks, according to Common Cause/NY, and others who are pushing to make voting easier this fall as New Yorkers struggle with health and safety concerns, homeschooling, job loss and job changes, and other extraordinary events.

Sen. Krueger sponsored Senate Bill S.6930, which would stop schools from acting as early voting locations, and instead calls for the utilization of institutions receiving tax exemptions or buildings whose owners receive more than one million dollars in grant money. This bill comes after hearing concerns in 2019 about schools being used as early voting sites. While schools are closed on Election Day, most schools are not closed during the early voting period, causing the influx of early voters to interrupt the school day or cut off access to important school areas such as gymnasiums and cafeterias. 

“Nonprofits and cultural institutions with the appropriate space that receive tax dollars have a civic responsibility to help New Yorkers vote by opening their doors for early voting and polling sites,” said Brad Holyman, a candidate for Manhattan Borough President.  “That’s why I voted for and am a co-sponsor of S.6930 by Senator Krueger to make it a requirement in state law that taxpayer-subsidized nonprofits and cultural institutions take the pressure off of our public schools and serve as early voting and polling sites.”

Senate Bill S.6930 passed the State Senate in early January 2020 and was delivered to the State Assembly. An Assembly version (A.6955) is sponsored by Sandy Galef and resides in the Election Law Committee.