Photo by Dave Warner – Early voting for Herkimer County is being held at Benton Hall Academy, 1 Ward St, Little Falls, NY.

by Dave Warner

If you didn’t know, early voting for Tuesday, November 8th’s election is being held in Little Falls for all of Herkimer Country. The polls are open according to the following schedule:

  • November 2, 2022, 12:00 Noon – 8:00 pm
  • November 3, 2022 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • November 4, 2022 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • November 5, 2022 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • November 6, 2022 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

The north (administrative entrance) to Benton Hall Academy at 1 Ward St is serving as an overly cramped hard to get to location for voters across the county.

Late last year, the New York State Legislature voted to move Early Voting for any County that had a city to that city. Since Little Falls is the only City within the county, voting had to take place here.

In the past, early voting had taken place at Herkimer College, where there is plenty of parking and handicapped access, as well as space for the voting machines.

Legislation was proposed by Senator Oberracker, Assemblyman Smullen, Assemblyman Miller, and Senator Tedisco, who submitted it requesting that Herkimer County be exempt from the new law and allow it to stay in the County seat, the Village of Herkimer and Herkimer College for all future early voting.

During the most recent legislative session, the state refused to take up the bill for consideration.

Herkimer County Republican Commissioner Kim Tranter said, “This left us trying to find a location within the City limits to hold Early Voting. Many people tried to help us secure a location. I spoke with more than 15 locations within the City, and for one reason or another, no one could (or would) assist us.”

Early voting requires several things, including being located on a bus route, being handicap accessible, providing handicapped parking, ample voter parking, etc. In Little Falls, that left only two possible locations.

“Holy Family Parish declined to hold early voting on multiple occasions because they wanted to leave the church available to the community. The last facility we contacted was Benton Hall. Dr. Keith Levatino and his staff were so welcoming and so accommodating it made us feel welcome,” she said.

Dr. Levatino stated, “I’ll start by saying that I believe it is my and the district’s civic responsibility to support our voting process. Kim told me back in the spring that other locations weren’t supportive, so we stepped up to help. Mr. Long made some small adjustments for student dismissal, and it is working fine.”

He continued, “We have set up a system/process that makes voting accessible for community members while maintaining a high level of safety for all of the students, faculty, and staff.”

Photo by Dave Warner – Voters and poll workers are tucked into the entranceway at Benton Hall Academy.

While the administration has been as accommodating as possible, the only spot they can use does not make voting easy.

One voter stated, “My wife and I went to vote on Saturday and could not believe the setup. We are crammed in a stairwell with six poll workers and a couple of other voters. I had to squeeze between the wall and the voting booth.  The workers were great, but honestly, they and the voters deserve better. This was a ridiculous setup and certainly doesn’t encourage voting.”

Tranter stated, “As for the number of workers, Election Law requires that we have two Republican and two Democrat poll Inspectors (the folks who sit at the table) and two coordinators (the folks who handle the voting machine).”

Another issue that came up is the lack of parking because the area on that side of the school is reserved for buses until 4 pm, leaving little room for people to park. Tranter said that they had to work with the school and the police chief to ensure that voters weren’t ticketed for coming to vote.

Tranter said, “We will resume our efforts on the legislation again next year. It would be so helpful if every voter would reach out to Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, the Chairwoman of the NYS Assembly. She chooses which bills progress to the Assembly floor for consideration. Our bill never made it past her. Her number is 718.342.1256.”

“Maybe if enough people reach out to her, we can take a good look at finding a location that can work for all the Herkimer County voters,” she stated.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 450 people have voted at that location.