As the referendum to establish an ambulance district in Rotterdam nears, some are questioning whether the town is putting certain voters at a disadvantage.
Rotterdam officials have decided against offering absentee ballots for the vote on June 29 and will only set up one polling location at Town Hall. The town attorneys advised against offering the mail-in ballots because they would require a registration process for the vote, which is only open to property owners.
“I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” said Supervisor Frank Del Gallo. “But we’ll have to wait and see.”
But the lack of absentee ballots has already rankled some residents. Frank Salamone, a Republican running for the Town Board next fall, said voters should be allowed to vote via absentee ballot because they were initially promised that right when the election was set in April.
“One of the fundamentals of our government is the idea that people get to vote,” he said. “This decision will deprive many Rotterdam residents of that right.”
The upcoming vote also caught the attention of state Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, who is co-sponsoring legislation that would require municipalities to offer absentee ballots during referendum votes. He said many constituents have contacted him about the lack of absentee ballots in the Rotterdam referendum.
“This legislation is vital because it would require absentee ballots for all elections statewide to be accounted for,” he said. “The situation we are seeing in the town of Rotterdam repeats itself across New York, and residents who vote by absentee certainly have the right to make their voices heard on these issues.”
The referendum would establish a special property tax of about 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to aid Rotterdam Emergency Medical Services Inc. The owner of a $165,000 home would pay $16.50 per year to support REMS, according to the map, plan and report accepted by the town in September.
The proposed ambulance district would not fund REMS’ payroll. This funding would come solely through insurance billing, according to the report.
But unlike other votes, the referendum isn’t under the purview of the county Board of Elections. The ambulance district vote will be solely administered by the town, save for the electronic polling machines provided by the county.
Town officials had initially considered having the vote on election day in November. But they were advised such a vote could pose a logistical nightmare and possible legal issues.
“As a practical matter and a legal matter, I do not think it’s an option,” Elections Commissioner Brian Quail said.
The timing of the vote is also being called into question. Salamone said it is unfair to have a vote just days before the Fourth of July weekend and at a time when many people are planning to go away on summer vacation.
“I don’t understand why the administration would refuse to execute this vote in the most convenient way possible to ensure that there is a high voter turnout,” he said.
Board member Niki DiLeva is urging her colleagues to postpone the vote so that residents have more time to study the issue at hand. DiLeva, who has been on a medical leave of absence for nearly two months, speculated that many residents aren’t even aware of the limitations the town has placed on the upcoming vote.
“Everything should be made clear and I just don’t think the information that’s out there is clear enough,” she said.
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