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Politics & Government

How Many Ways Can Onondaga County Vote? Let's Count Them With "Your Election Blueprint"

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James Corrigan
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WAER News

With the election about five weeks away, there have never been more ways for Central New Yorkers to vote. but there are also more challenges in voting this year than ever before.   As part of "Your Election Blueprint," WAER News takes a deeper look at the state of voting in Onondaga County, and how the pandemic has affected the people's ability to cast a ballot.

There's never a dull moment at the Promise Land church in East Syracuse, even for a virtual service. The Word of God is always on the tip of the tongue. But lately, Pastor Erik Eure has been preaching a different kind of gospel.

“There's only 50 days until the election, I want you to go to ongov.net You can find out about absentee ballots. The dates for early voter registration.”

Eure and his Interdenominational Ministry Alliance, of which he is president, has been part of an outreach effort to help inform voters of the new voting rules in 2020.

 “I think one of our greatest strengths when it comes to immunity is our ability to spread the word we should in addition to the message that we give, also talk about social activism and need to participate on the citizen level.”

This year's election liturgy is different, as there are three different ways to vote: Early, absentee, and traditionally on election day. Early voting is different this year from previous federal elections, as voters will have eight days to vote early at any of six locations in Onondaga County. Onondaga Board of Elections Democratic co-commissioner Dustin Czarny says the basis for early voting is simple.

 “The easier we make it to vote, the more people tend to vote. We saw a record turnout for congressional primaries. This could help ensure that every voter who can cast a ballot will cast a ballot.”

This is the mission of the nonprofit group VoteEarlyNY. Its co-founder Jarret Berg explains that early voting in Onondaga county has not come without its obstacles.

 “Onondaga is one of the counties that has a program that's worked really well, but they are literally doing the bare minimum that the law requires, while dozens of counties are going beyond that.”

By comparison, Erie County has 37 early voting sites, while Onondaga only has six, the minimum required by law, Czarny says sacrifices had to be made.

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Credit James Corrigan / WAER News
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WAER News
Syracuse's Southwest Community Center on South Ave. will be one of six early voting sites Oct. 24-Nov.1

I've pushed for more early voting sites. But you know, we have to come to agreements with our republican commissioners.”

GOP co-commissioner Michelle Sardo is not concerned about the number of sites, due to the multiple other methods of voting.

“You have the six sites that are open for the nine days before the Election, plus you have Election Day with 155 sites that are open. There is also the absentee so there is multiple ways to vote.”

Early voting lasts from October 24th to November 1st.

A concern this year more than any other is voter safety. This year, any voter can request an absentee ballot through the mail due to COVID. Czarny says making voters feel comfortable casting their ballots is the biggest upside.

Sardo, though, is confident that voters can cast their ballots safely in person.

“It’s just like going to the grocery store. It is sanitized after every voter. And our election inspectors are doing a wonderful job keeping them six feet apart like they did in the June primary.”

In order for the new voting methods to work, people have to know about them. But in a pandemic, in-person outreach is nearly impossible. And while voting rights organizations promote the new rules heavily on social media, Berg says lower income voters might not get the message.

Our system has a lot of folks that are what we would call lower information voters. There's just more obstacles, there's more hurdles, there's far more sort of information imbalance.”

This is why Czarny personally reached out to Reverend Eure to help with his outreach efforts, and why Erue and others have responded with force.

In the times in which we live, our faith, our unity, our voices together, our vote! Our vote is how we're going to bring about change we need to see."

In an election unlike any other, the state of voting itself can determine not just who wins and loses. Election officials and advocacy groups believe it will shape the fate of our democracy.