A Good Time to Host a Polling Site
By Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell
Chair of the NYS Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development
Across New York, museums serve as anchors as well as reflections of your communities. Your missions to connect individuals to culture, history, and information is deeply needed and commendable.
In keeping with the pivotal role museums play in civil society, right now you have an opportunity to become a part of history by contributing to New York State’s efforts to expand voter access. Today, I am asking you to reach out to your local board of elections and offer to host a poll site during future elections. Not only will this support your communities’ civic engagement, but it will also improve your museums’ engagement with community members.
New York has taken dramatic and exciting leaps forward in expanding access to voting in the past two years. My colleagues in the State Legislature and I passed laws implementing automatic voter registration, cementing vital civil rights voting protections, and establishing 10 days of early voting before each election in NY. Although New Yorkers now have increased voters’ access to the polls, there are still a few wrinkles to iron out – one of which I believe New York Museums can help resolve.
With the recent expansion in voting opportunities, Boards of Elections have found it difficult to secure polling sites at locations other than public schools. New York’s museums can help address this by stepping up and volunteering to host more voting locations for our communities. I believe it is a fantastic opportunity for both community members and museums to strengthen civil society and advance your missions in tandem.
I would like to relay a few concerns that demonstrate the urgency of this matter and the difference your contribution will make. After the Boards of Elections create their list of potential polling sites, they reach out to these locations to determine their availability. While many sites have the option to opt-out, public schools do not. More often than not, this is the case.
Although the recent expansion in voting opportunities is great for the larger community, serving as polling sites often disrupts students’ academic performance. As an Assembly Member, I have heard concerns from students, parents, and school administrators about students unable to access areas of their school, such as gymnasiums or other common areas, for days at a time. Even during the summer, polling sites can interfere with classes and activities scheduled for some locations. Public schools recognize their role in supporting our communities’ civic engagement, but I believe museums have similar values and obligations to contribute to the public good.
The good news is: I have no doubt that hosting a polling site would lead to positive outcomes for your organizations, too. While the COVID-19 pandemic stymied foot traffic in many NY museums, serving as a polling site can help bring back visitors through increased community engagement with museums. Although many New Yorkers already frequent museums, voting brings in a broad cross-section of the community, including some people who rarely or never visit museums. I have no doubt that coming to your building to vote will encourage these individuals to visit their local museums more often.
Further, as more New Yorkers experience first-hand the ways museums contribute to their communities, support for these museums will only improve. Community members often contact their representatives to advocate on behalf of their favorite organizations, institutions, programs, etc. If hosting a poll site isn’t a great way for museums to increase their visibility and popularity among community members, I don’t know what is!
In addition, hosting a polling location is a meaningful expression of museums’ values, and furthers your mission to strengthen civil society. It builds on the recent series “Museums and Democracy” hosted by MANY in collaboration with Museum Hue - focused on improving democracy and civic engagement. Now more than ever, we need every part of civil society to step up and recommit to maintaining a strong, vibrant democracy. You can be a critical part of this shared mission by making sure voting is accessible to New Yorkers.
I urge you to consider my request: help New Yorkers, and yourselves, by volunteering to host a poll site for future elections. If you need a place to start, try reaching out to your local Boards of Elections and tell them you want to help. You can find their contact information here: https://www.elections.ny.gov/CountyBoards.html.
I thank you and the Museum Association of New York for your invaluable contributions to our society. I also thank you for your time and attention to this matter.