Making Democracy Work

Local Media Columns

Local Media Columns

Local Media Columns

Times Beacon Record newspapers

TimesBeaconRecord newspapers: The Village Times Herald, The Port Times Record, The Village Beacon Record, The Times of Middle County, The Times of Smithtown and The Times of Huntington-Northport now publish a monthly League of Women Voters of Suffolk County column in their Arts & Lifestyles section.

Observing your government in action 8-10-17

The first TBR media column, published on August 10, 2017 appears below:

Making Democracy Work:
Observing your government in action: How to get started
by Lisa Scott

The League of Women Voters (LWV) has a strong commitment to open government and civic engagement. Protecting our right to know is integral to the health of our democracy. One important way to ensure that decisions are made with public input and oversight is for citizens to observe government meetings.

New York State's Open Meetings Law, often known as the Sunshine Law, went into effect in 1977. Amendments that clarify and reaffirm your right to hear the deliberations of public bodies became effective in 1979.

In brief, the law gives the public the right to attend meetings of public bodies, listen to the debates and watch the decision-making process in action. It requires public bodies to provide notice of the times and places of meetings and keep minutes of all action taken.

The Open Meetings Law provides the public with the right to attend meetings of public bodies, but it is silent concerning the ability of members of the public to speak or otherwise participate. Although public bodies are not required to permit the public to speak at their meetings, many have chosen to do so. In those instances, it has been advised that a public body should do so by adopting reasonable rules that treat members of the public equally. (To learn more about the Open Meetings Law, visit http://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/right_to_know.html.)

To start exercising your rights, go to a government meeting as an observer so that you become familiar with the procedures and rules and the issues. Acquaint yourself with the protocols for public comment, so that you can speak to these issues when appropriate.

In order to encourage every Suffolk County resident to become familiar with their elected officials, the LWV compiles and prints ​a 28-page booklet annually called the ​Directory of Public Officials (DPO)​, a guide to elected federal, state, county, town and local officials. You'll know how to contact them -- addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and websites. You'll see salaries, terms of office, whether there are term limits and whether they are up for election each year.

The DPO includes a section with a breakdown and details of the Suffolk County budget, as well as a color map of Suffolk County legislative districts and a list of Suffolk County legislative committees with members, meeting days and times. Phone contacts for key Suffolk County departments and agencies are included too. (The Directory of Public Officials can be viewed here

State, county, town, village, library and school district websites are good sources for general, committee and board meeting schedules, as well as agendas for upcoming meetings and minutes of those that have already occurred.

Local media (newspapers and community websites) report on a great many issues and government meetings. However, you may have concerns about issues that are not covered by local media and should take responsibility to observe and participate when these issues are discussed at government meetings. Be an informed, engaged citizen and participate. Democracy is not a spectator sport!

Lisa Scott is the president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org.

View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here

Vote in a Primary 9-7-17

The September 7, 2017 TBR Media column appears below:

Making Democracy Work:
Choose your party's candidate by voting in a primary on Sept. 12
by Lisa Scott

Elections in Suffolk County in 2017 will be for county and local officials. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. Political party primaries will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 12. The winner in a party's primary election will run in the general election on that party's line.

Not every candidate running in every office will be involved in a primary. Primaries only occur when more than one candidate from a party wants the party line for a specific race. Primaries offer the voters an opportunity to choose the candidate who will be on the ballot in the general election for that party.

Turnout in local elections and primaries, is historically low ... find out if you are eligible to vote in a primary, and make your voice heard. Stock photo   Many states have open primaries, which do not require that voters are enrolled in the party that is holding the primary. In fact, there are some states that permit voters to register to vote and select a party on the day of the primary. New York, however, has closed primaries, which means the voter must be enrolled in the party in order to vote in that party's primary. The only exception to that rule is if a minor party allows voters who are not enrolled in any political party to vote in its party. This is rare, but this year any unaligned voter may vote in the primary held by the Reform Party.

Turnout is generally very low in a local election year and even lower in the primaries. The League of Women Voters encourages everyone who is eligible to vote in a primary to do so. To qualify to vote in this year's primaries, you would have had to be registered to vote by Aug. 18 and, other than to vote in Reform Party, you must be enrolled in a party that is holding a primary in your election district. Note that if you were changing your political party or had not been enrolled in a party, the change would have to have been done by Oct. 14, 2016. (New York State requires that voters who wish to change their party registration must do so prior to the previous election.) So if, for example, you changed your party affiliation to (a hypothetical) Party Z on Nov. 10 of last year, you would not be able to vote in Party Z's primary this year.

If you are not sure whether you are enrolled in a party, or want to know if your party is having any primaries in which you can vote, call the Suffolk County Board of Elections at 631-852-4500 or visit its website at http://www.suffolkvotes.com. Click the left side link to Check Your Registration, or visit the NYS Board of Election voter lookup page at https://voterlookup.elections.state.ny.us/votersearch.aspx. If you want to change your party affiliation for next year, this must be done by Oct. 13, 2017.

Remember that mistakes occasionally happen. If you know that you are eligible to vote in a primary and are told you are not in the poll book when you get to the polls, ask for an affidavit ballot.  Affidavit ballots are turned into the Suffolk County Board of Elections, which will verify if you were eligible to vote in the primary and then notify you if your ballot was counted.   Never leave the polls without voting.

At the Nov. 7 general election you will be voting for Suffolk County district attorney, Suffolk County sheriff, County Court judge and Family Court judge as well as your Suffolk County legislator and many of your town public officials. In addition, there will be three propositions on the back of the ballot, which will be discussed in next month's column. Learn the facts. Be an educated voter.

Lisa Scott is the president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org.

View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here