FULTON & MONTGOMERY COUNTIES – Voters in Montgomery County will have three early voting locations to choose from this year, while the more populated Fulton County is sticking with the required minimum of one early voting station.
A new state mandate in effect for the 2021 primary and general elections requires all counties to have at least one early voting polling station in the county’s most populated municipality, which is the city of Amsterdam (estimated population 17,836) for Montgomery County and the city of Gloversville (estimated population 14,747) for Fulton County.
New York state’s 2019 early voting law required all counties with less than 99,000 residents to open at least one early voting location to allow voters to vote for eight days before both the political party primary elections and the general election in 2020.
For the 2020 elections the County Board of Elections in both Fulton County (estimated population 53,383) and in Montgomery County (estimated population 49,221) complied with the minimum mandate of one early polling location, and both chose their own County Board of Elections office as the place to do it. Fulton County held early voting at the Route 29 County Office Building, adjacent to its Sheriff’s Department and Jail, in the town of Johnstown, and Montgomery County held early voting at its office at 9 Park St., Fonda.
In 2020 New York state added a new requirement that at least one early polling station be located in a county’s most populated municipality for the 2021 elections, prompting Fulton County to relocate its early voting location to the Gloversville Senior Center at 53 Church St., Gloversville, which has about double the town of Johnstown’s estimated 7,098 residents.
Fulton County Republican Election Commissioner Lee Hollenbeck said it cost the county about $6,500 to operate an early polling station for eight days, and they only moved it to Gloversville because of the state requirement.
“We never discussed anything other than the minimum of one,” he said. “We’ve always used one site. I had [said] I don’t think we’ll get [voters from the western] towns, but we never mentioned having a second site.”
Although it has fewer residents than Fulton County, the Montgomery County Board of Elections has chosen to go bigger with three locations for the 2021 elections:
• The Amsterdam Housing Authority, 52 Division St., Amsterdam
• The Montgomery County Board of Elections office, 9 Park St., Fonda
• The Fort Plain Senior Center, 204 Canal St, Fort Plain.
Montgomery County Republican Election Commissioner Terrance Smith said the only reason the county opened a polling station in the city of Amsterdam was the state mandate. He said the reason for opening three locations was the geography of the county is such that having a poling station near the western villages would be more convenient for the residents on that end of the county. He said the Montgomery County Board of Elections decided to keep the early voting station open at the county Board of Elections office because it’s located more in the center of the county and some voters who participated in early voting last year might get confused and try to vote there again.
He said the Montgomery County Legislature approved funding for early voting locations as part of the 2021 budget, and he isn’t certain how much each of the stations will cost.
Hollenbeck said Fulton County will advertise to make sure people aren’t confused and attempt to vote early at the Route 29 Board of Elections office.
He said Fulton County is geographically different from Montgomery County in that most of Fulton County’s villages are in the eastern and northern parts of the county, with the western end of Fulton County being somewhat sparsely populated compared to the rest of it.
Democratic Election Commissioner Terry Bieniek said Montgomery County would have preferred to locate its city of Amsterdam early voting station at the former Amsterdam Recorder office building, 1 Venner Road, located on the outskirts of the city. Montgomery County is moving its Department of Social Services offices to the Venner Road site following a renovation of the building.
“The building isn’t ready,” Bieniek said. “It’s still under remodeling. If it was ready we would have liked to use it. Maybe next year when it gets done.”
Incumbent County Executive Matt Ossenfort, a Republican, and Rita Francesa Loffredo, a Democrat who briefly announced a campaign to challenge him in November before pulling out of the race in March, had both argued in favor of having a polling location more centrally located in the main part of the city of Amsterdam, rather than Venner Road.
Bieniek acknowledged that there have been advocates for putting the early voting location in downtown Amsterdam, and the Amsterdam Housing Authority office fits that description.
“Yes, everyone seems to have an opinion,” he said. “We the commissioners make the decision. Finding a place to use for nine days isn’t that easy to find.”