After months of discussion, hours of research, a hearing that wasn't, many letters and FAXes, and a meeting in which their anger with each other was not hidden - the three Port Washington Police District Commissioners voted unanimously at a special meeting on Monday, Sept. 28, to extend the voting hours at the next police district election by nine hours. On Tuesday, Dec. 8, Port residents will be able to vote from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., versus 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. of previous years, and versus 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. a few years before that. The franchise has come a long way, baby - despite a refusal, so far, of the nine special district commissioners to also extend their voting hours, and with the strong support of the League of Women Voters.
The commissioners' deciding vote at Monday's special meeting would not have been predicted by some who attended the previous, regular police commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 23. At that meeting Commissioner Bob Persons read into the record a Sept. 8 letter received from the nine commissioners of the special districts - water, garbage, and sewer - in which those commissioners jointly stated that they would not agree to extend the voting hours beyond the current 3-6 p.m. tradition. They claimed that the existing voting hours, 3 to 9 p.m., were adequate.
Although the three special districts are not governed by the same state laws as the police district (the only police district in the state), all four districts have traditionally held their respective elections at the same place and time for the convenience of the voters. Their rationale has been that more voters would turn out for each election if they only had to go to one place at one time to vote.
Whereas the police commissioners had appeared united before then in their mission to extend the franchise, the letter from the special district commissioners spurred the police commissioners into blaming each other for the special districts' negative reply. The letter also made the police commissioners doubt the wisdom of their goal and led to long discussions of how the voters would be confused - and how the special district commissioners would be angry - if the police commissioners extended voting hours on their own.
Speaking for the League of Women Voters, Rita Tanski read a letter into the record which urged extension of voting hours so that those disenfranchised by the current poll hours will have the opportunity to vote. She said many Port residents haven't voted for many years because they leave Port too early and return too late She also cited the need to overcome voter apathy by making voting more convenient. She said the vote is the tool citizens use to silence leaders and hold them accountable. She therefore urged the commissioners to extend the voting hours all the way, from 6 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. Commissioner Persons also argued that many citizens work from 2 a.m. until 10 p.m. and therefore have no chance to vote under the current system. Barry Loeb reported that the board of directors of the General Council, without knowing the cost, had also voted in favor of extending voting hours to 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The police commissioners continued to debate the best course of action until Sal Zimbardi, who is rumored to eye Smitheimer's seat on the board, saved the commissioners from having to cast a vote that night by suggesting that they wait to see if the League of Women Voters could persuade the special districts to extend their hours. The League of Women Voters had actually sent a letter to the special district commissioners that morning. As of press time, they had not heard a reply, however. Water District Commissioner Betty Forquer stated on Sept. 28 that she still did not see a need for extending the voting hours.
The three police commissioners finally decided to operate independently from the special districts, however, and therefore voted on Sept. 28 to extend voting hours for the police district election, at least for this year. Details of how to staff the polling place were therefore discussed. Commissioner Persons was so happy about the decision that he offered to run coffee back and forth for the weary election employees all day. To vote in the Dec. 8 election, a person must be at least 18 years old, have lived in the Port Washington Police District for at least 30 days, and be registered with the Nassau County Board of Elections. Absentee ballots will also be available - another progressive first for the police district.
On another matter, Attorney Steve Ressa reported that Sprint had withdrawn its offer to lease space on the existing tower behind the police station.
The next police commissioner meetings are scheduled for Friday, Oct. 2, at 9 a.m., and the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 6. Petitions for prospective police commissioner candidates must be turned into police headquarters between Oct. 24 and 29.