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Sen. Gaughran: Voting easier than ever this year

Rikki Massand
Syosset Advance

In spite of national controversy over vote-by-mail procedures, New York State Senator James Gaughran, who represents Oyster Bay, Syosset, Woodbury and Long Island communities in the 5th State Senatorial District,urges residents to join him in voting in the November 3rd election in a process that he says has been made “very easy.”

In an interview with the Advance and News-Journal at his Underhill Boulevard, Syosset office on September 2nd, Sen. Gaughran said concerns over what has transpired with operations of the United States Postal Service drove the State of New York to move up mail-in ballot timelines to allow votes to be cast up to seven weeks prior to the election.

New York State has legislation allowing residents three different methods of voting in the 2020 Election. Traditional polling stations on Election Day will be available, with social distancing measures and masks required. Voters can also vote up to 10 days prior to the November 3 election at regional “early voting” sites to follow a method instituted in New York a year ago, with additional sites added this year. Finally, Sen. Gaughran noted that legislation he co-sponsored will allow any registered voter who chooses to vote by absentee ballot to be able to do so. However, voters will not automatically be sent their absentee ballot — it must be applied for.

“If anyone feels concerned about going in to a polling location to vote whether during early voting or on Election Day because of the pandemic’s spread, we have instituted policy for absentee ballots and we moved up the timeframe so up to seven weeks prior to November 3 you can cast an absentee ballot. While any voter would have to apply for their absentee ballot, the process is easy as they can access the page online to apply — available on the New York State Board of Elections’ website — Elections.NY.Gov,” the senator explained.

The website contains a tab: “How to Apply for an Absentee Ballot” and for the first time, New Yorkers can request their absentee ballot online for the general election. Sen. Gaughran is predicting that as in the case of the Primary Election, a “huge number of voters” are going to vote by absentee ballot this fall.

“A lot of people are going to submit their votes right away because many have ideas for the Presidential race and they have made up their minds one way or another. Though we of course know that some people will wait and then make up their minds closer to Election Day or on Election Day itself. The state has made it as easy as possible for everyone to vote,” Sen. Gaughran noted.

For added convenience, if residents are not comfortable dropping off or mailing their own absentee ballot, a family member or friend can submit it for them at the early voting sites or to the Board of Elections. One of the issues noted in counting the votes during this year’s Primary was that some voters did not sign the absentee ballot envelopes or other required information was not filled out. Sen. Gaughran explained another safeguard New York now has in place:

“There is now a law that if and when any defective absentee ballot comes in, the Board of Elections will have the obligation to notify the voter that there’s an issue with their ballot and it won’t be counted. That allows the voter the opportunity to correct it or let them know that since that ballot won’t be counted they can do early voting or vote on Election Day in-person,” he said.

Sen. Gaughran identified the challenges facing the boards of elections in hiring poll workers for traditional polling locations, although with new COVID-19 safety precautions in place. He’s spoken to many North Shore residents about their own prior experiences working at polling places, but with many being senior citizens or those in more vulnerable categories for COVID-19 risks, the senator hopes younger generations take initiative and seek part-time work with the elections process.

“There still will be traditional Election Day voting and I know our boards of elections are working as hard as they can to recruit people, including younger people such as college students who are attending their classes remotely/online right now. This can be an opportunity for younger people to be involved in the process and help communities,” Gaughran said.

Gaughran is up for re-election to his second term as State Senator representing Long Island’s District 5; in the 2018 election he defeated incumbent Sen. Carl Marcellino and the state senators’ term is for two years. While Gaughran was new in the State political office in his recent career past, the long-term dedication and involvement in advocacy and civic leadership roles started when, at age 26, James Gaughran became the youngest Councilman elected to Town Board for his hometown Town of Huntington.

In 1987 Gaughran was elected to the Suffolk County Legislature representing the 17th Legislative District in the Town of Huntington. In this role he was chair of the County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, helping to reform the Suffolk County Police Department with new community-oriented police policies. Also as a longtime practicing attorney involved with environmental protection on the Town and County level since the early 1980s, Gaughran co-sponsored the Suffolk Water Protection Act which led to preserving the Central Pine Barrens and other critical watershed areas in Suffolk County.

Gaughran has served the State Senate as chair of its Local Government Committee; member of the Senate’s Higher Education, Women’s Issues and Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business Committees, among other notable roles. Looking back on a 36-year career in Long Island politics and the ever-evolving civic discourse in North Shore communities and statewide for New York, Gaughran says knowing the local level legislative issues plus serving as Huntington’s village attorney created a great foundation for working with his fellow State level representatives.

“When we pass State legislation I know the direct impacts this has on local governments. It brings a perspective not everybody has — I raise my voice on the issues of concern to our local communities and their governing bodies. Having done that for two years — the first year (2019) in a more traditional way and this year with the pandemic, national crises, economic impact and especially losing many New Yorkers to this….hopefully we can regroup as the Legislature gets back into full session in January and we try to be returning to normal, though we have lots of work to do,” he said.

Sen. Gaughran says in these two years he’s gained knowledge of how the State governments and especially State Legislature operates.

“When I went to Albany I saw how in many ways it was totally different than our other levels of government, but yet in many ways it has been the same. The legal experience has aided my work in government, but the very best way to perform in this job as state senator is to be honest with the people you are representing, talk to as many constituents as possible and make decisions that you believe are in the best interests of those you represent,” Sen. Gaughran noted.

Following a Town Hall event held on September 3, Sen. Gaughran will continue to communicate with constituents and voters through social media platforms, email, and other online methods. “This year’s campaign leading up to November will look different — there is no turning out to knock on doors in neighborhoods. We recognize concerns over crowds and the spread of COVID-19, and I want to make sure we continue to protect everyone in the public,” he explained.

His latest eblast announcement on Tuesday, September 8, touted that the National Rifle Association (NRA) gave him, as an elected official, an “F” rating from the NRA’s 2020 political scorecard based on legislative voting history in Albany and the candidate’s position on gun safety issues.

“The only failing grade I have ever been proud of is my ‘F’ rating from the NRA. I am proud to have stood up against the corporate gun lobby and helped pass groundbreaking anti-gun violence legislation in New York in my first term including expanded background checks and banning the bump stock,” Senator Gaughran said.

With all eyes on the economy and state finances leading into this election season, Gaughran explains the precarious situation New York State and local municipalities are grappling with as they will have limited tax revenues and exorbitant costs of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic continuing into this fall. He noted that a major portion of the annual New York State budget goes directly to local governments from the State Treasury with local assistance. The challenges now and ahead remain “plugging our holes” with everything hinging on federal funding.

“Some of the restrictions that were established unfortunately do not just involve the Governor’s office; they involve state and local health departments — and there are proposed cuts coming down. New York is hurting without the income tax money and the sales tax money coming in…. It remains a big concern for New York that we do secure funding from the federal government. The big crisis we are dealing with now is trying to get Washington, in particular the U.S. Senate, to deliver. Our Long Island north shore area U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi was able to lead efforts for legislation to be passed in the House of Representatives, and now they are trying to get the U.S. Senate to come around and give us state and local governments’ relief. This is the crisis we’re dealing with,” Sen. Gaughran said last week.