JAMESTOWN – City officials Monday night discussed the recent announcement by the Chautauqua County Board of Elections that it will have to find a new polling location for voters in Ward 3 of the city.
The announcement was made after the current location – the National Comedy Center (NCC) – informed the board of elections that it could no longer use its gift shop space as a polling site on Election Day. The gift shop is located in the center concourse of the former Jamestown Gateway Train Station, which was renovated 10 years ago with some funding coming from a Federal Transportation Authority grant.
“Due to the pandemic we have re-structured our hours and our museum is currently closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. This allows us ample time to provide a thorough cleaning and sanitization of our museum that we have committed to in our Laugh Safe Program,” the NCC initially wrote in August 2020. “Due to these unusual circumstances, we are able to offer you the space for the November 3rd, 2020 elections as we are closed to the public on that day. This is a one-time deal. We will accommodate this year due to the unique circumstances in response to the pandemic, but will insist that you find an alternate location in the future as it is a hardship going forward. It is not open for discussion, but given the pandemic, we are able to accommodate this request in 2020.”
However, the Board of Elections felt the NCC should remain a polling location, due to it being funded by public tax dollars.
“We note that it was always intended, as you know, that the Gateway Train Station would remain a shared facility with the public. The gift shop was always intended by your own agreement to have its display of goods on wheels so as to properly facilitate the sharing that the Comedy Center promised when they gained control of the Gateway Train Station. That aside, New York State law requires that not for profits be made available for voting. Continued access by your limited income racially diverse neighbors to be used for voting accomplishes so much for the National Comedy Center and helps to fulfill the Gateway mission, too,” the Board of Elections wrote in August 2020.
But when election officials sent out a poling agreement to the NCC at the start of this year, the NCC reaffirmed its position that it no longer wanted to host a polling location.
“We are in receipt of the Polling Agreement for 2021. Please review the [August 2020] email that indicates 2020 would be our last year we are able to accommodate this request,” wrote the NCC.
With the NCC no longer interested in hosting the Ward 3 polling location, the BOE reached out to the city, seeking help in identifying a new location. When the matter was brought up on Monday night, some other council members, including Jeffrey Russell (R-at large), said they would rather the polling location remain where it is.
“The renovations on [the train station] was many millions of dollars and some of those millions of dollars was tax payer money. That rotunda was supposed to be open to the public and have access to the public and it seems like slowly, over a period of time, that that area has been taken away from the public, despite it being renovated by taxpayer funds,” Russell said.
Also in support of keeping the polling location where it is was Vickye James (D-Ward 3), along with councilman Tom Nelson (D-Ward 6)
Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist said the city doesn’t have the ability to require where polling sites must be located, but did say if the council wished, the city could send a letter of request to the NCC, asking that it allows the polling site remain where it is.
The city will also work with the Board of Elections in trying to identify a new location for Ward 3 voters, if the NCC is unwilling to change its mind about no longer hosting a poll site.