JAMESTOWN – The Chautauqua County Board of Elections says it has the final say in selecting the polling location for a group of voters in Jamestown – even if that means keeping it at the National Comedy Center (NCC) on W. Second Street. However, the county’s two election commissioners also say they are willing to work with local leaders to find a new location if need be.
Earlier this month the board of elections reached out to Jamestown City Officials asking them to help identify possible new locations for Ward 3 voters to vote. The request came after the Board of Elections were notified by NCC that it was no longer wanted to be a polling location.
Since 2013, all Ward 3 voters in Jamestown have voted inside the Gateway Train Station. The NCC took ownership the Train Station in 2018 and converted the center concourse into a gift shop, but still allowed voting to take place there for the past three years. But the NCC notified election officials last year that they must find a new polling site for voting for both the primaries in June, as well as the general election in November.
“[We] will insist that you find an alternate location in the future as it is a hardship going forward. It is not open for discussion,” the NCC said in an email to the Board of Elections last year.
However, County Election Commissioner Brian Abram said that under state law, a non profit-organization is required to provide a space for public elections and the final decision is not with the organization, but ultimately with the local board of elections.
“They could decline, but then again we have the authority to say that we would question their status of a nonprofit, because within the nonprofit status would be the ability for us to utilize the facility for voting,” Abram said during a recent interview with WRFA, adding, “But at this point, we’re asking for help from both the city and the comedy center for resolution.”
Prior to 2013, Ward 3 voting was at the Northwest Arena. But Abram said there were challenges with using the ice arena as a polling location and the Train station was more convenient and secure for voters.
“The foot traffic of the residents coming in and out for hockey and skating and other events made it somewhat difficult to have a private voting area secured for just the voters in Ward 3, so seeing a better opportunity was just down the road, we took advantage of that,” Abram said.
The Jamestown city council held a discussion on the issue after the Board of Elections notified the city it was seeking a potential new location. Also earlier this week, the NCC sent out a statement saying that it would be willing to host voting as a last resort, but it continues to hope that an alternative location will be used instead.
“By giving the Election Commission notice in May 2020, thirteen months prior to the need for a new polling site, it was hoped that there would be sufficient time to find a suitable location that works well for all concerned without affecting the Comedy Center’s visitor experience and retail operations,”the NCC said in its statement. “We hope the Election Commission will try to find alternative sites, including any sites previously used prior to the train station venue in 2012. However, if they are unable to find an alternative site, we would consider readdressing the issue.”