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What you need to know for 02/24/2017

Voters to exercise poll power

Voters to exercise poll power

Before the sun rises on Tuesday, the gears of democracy will already be in motion.

Before the sun rises on Tuesday, the gears of democracy will already be in motion.

Hundreds of election inspectors will arrive at the town halls, school gyms and fire stations that serve as Election Day polling places across the region.

They will turn on the lights and then turn on and test electronic voting machines. They will unpack and double-check that they have the right printed ballots. At some polling places, they will need to set up the long folding tables where voters sign in. They will arrange the registration books.

County election commissioners, meanwhile, will already be at their desks, ready to answer technical assistance calls from the inspectors.

“We’re here officially at 5 a.m., and unofficially there is a presence by 4:30 a.m.. Everybody is here by 5 a.m.,” said Brian Quail, Schenectady County’s Democratic elections commissioner.

Then, at 6 a.m., as the darkness is just shifting to gray dawn, Election Day will officially commence — and the region’s voters will start making hundreds of choices about their local elected leadership and a half-dozen proposed state constitutional amendments.

Despite the early hour, there will be voters waiting at some sites, and virtually all will see their first member of the electorate within 15 minutes.

The big decisions this year include whether to approve a state constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling and the choice of new mayors in Saratoga Springs, Mechanicville, Albany and Johnstown.

Every vote matters

While voting only takes a few minutes, for those overseeing the process, it will be a long day. It may be hours after the polls close at 9 p.m. — or perhaps even days later — before we learn the outcome of some races.

This is an “off-year” election, when turnout is typically lower than in a presidential or congressional election year. It’s likely that fewer than half of the people registered to vote will take the opportunity to do so.

But an off-year election also means decisions being made by a relatively small pool of voters at the town or city level, so an individual’s vote actually counts for more, said Roger Schiera, Saratoga County’s Republican elections commissioner.

Those on the ballot will include town supervisors and county legislators, mayors, town and city councilmen, town clerks and highway superintendents.

“You should turn out because these are local races and you’re picking local leadership, the people who make local laws and decide local issues about economic development and parks and how subdivisions are laid out,” Schiera said.

History says the odds are good that somewhere in the Capital Region, there will be a election contest decided by just a handful of votes — or even just one.

“The races are typically decided by smaller margins,” Schiera said. “Every vote counts for more.”

Big decisions

With that empowering thought as an incentive to make it to your polling place, here are some of the highest-profile election races:

Montgomery County voters will pick their first elected county executive, choosing between Democrat Dominick Stagliano and Republican Matt Ossenfort. They will also select members of a nine-member county legislature that will replace the Board of Supervisors. Voters decided by referendum a year ago to change the form of county government.

In Saratoga County, Republican Michael Zurlo, a retired sheriff’s investigator, is the heavy favorite over Democrat Phil Lindsey and independent Jason Longton to become the next sheriff. Incumbent James D. Bowen is retiring after 41 years as the county’s top law enforcement officer.

Saratoga Springs voters will select either Democrat Joanne Yepsen or Republican Shauna Sutton for mayor. Incumbent mayor Scott Johnson didn’t run for re-election. The rest of the City Council is also up for new two-year terms, with the public safety commissioner’s race pitting incumbent Chris Mathiesen, a Democrat, against Republican Richard Wirth, the man he beat two years ago.

In Albany, City Treasurer Kathy Sheehan is the presumptive next mayor. The Democrat is seeking to replace the retiring Jerry Jennings. Her principal opponents, in a city that has a long history of electing Democrats, are Republican Jesse Calhoun and Conservative Joe Sullivan.

In Johnstown, Republican Scott Jeffers, Democrat Michael Julius and Conservative Helen Martin are vying to be the next mayor. Incumbent Sarah Slingerland is retiring.

Gloversville Mayor Dayton King, with the Republican and Conservative lines and an independent line, faces a challenge from James Handy, a former councilman and deputy mayor, on the independent Working for You line.

In the city of Schenectady, a race for three City Council seats pits a slate of Democrats including John Mootooveren, Carl E. Erickson II and Marion Porterfield against a Republican slate of Mary B. McClaine, Joseph M. Lazzari and Joseph C. Kelleher.

Statewide questions

But even in communities where local candidates don’t face competition, voters have a voice on six proposed constitutional amendments — the most statewide ballot questions in any recent election.

The propositions appear on the back of the paper ballot. Quail said he expects more people than in the past to vote on the propositions because they are now easier to find than the used to be. With the lever machines that were used before 2011, propositions appeared in tiny print at the top of the ballot and many people either didn’t see them or ignored them. With the proposition questions now appearing in full-size print, Quail expects more people will participate in deciding them.

Thanks to Saratoga Springs’ historic and current associations with gambling, there’s strong regional interest in the referendum on whether to legalize casino gambling. If the measure passes, it’s very likely one of the new casinos would be at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, which now offers video lottery terminals.

“Gambling is kind of a local issue for us,” Schiera said. “It could increase turnout in Saratoga County.”

The casino referendum is Prop. 1 on the ballot.

There has also been some controversy over Prop. 5, which would amend the constitution to allow NYCO Minerals of Willsboro to take ownership of and mine 200 acres of state-owned Forest Preserve land next to its existing wollastonite mine in Essex County. In return, the company would buy or donate 1,500 acres of private land that would be transferred to the state and become part of the Forest Preserve.

Among the other propositions, Prop. 2 would authorize additional civil service credit for a military veteran who is in a civil service post, if he or she is declared disabled after they are already in that post.

Prop. 3 would make it easier for communities to borrow to pay for sewage facilities, Prop. 4 would settle a land title dispute in Hamilton County and Prop. 6 would allow older state judges to serve an additional four years, until the age of 80.

Voters with last-minute questions about their polling places can contact the board of elections in their county.

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