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Vote by mail, or don’t vote at all in this year’s school district vote

Getting out the vote is not always the easiest task for people. It seems that some voters need a little nudge, a little push, to head to the polls. We get that, even if we don’t understand why, exactly. Let’s just put it down to human nature. Procrastination, possibly.

For the 2020 election cycle, we find ourselves in the middle of a global health pandemic. The coronavirus has understandably changed voting protocols in many locales around the world, including right here in New York state. Officials have been trying to figure out how to keep voters from spreading and/or contracting the deadly respiratory disease while at polling places, where social distancing would understandably be difficult, while still protecting our constitutional right to vote.

Governor Andrew Cuomo previously issued an Executive Order that rescheduled school board elections and budget votes in New York for Tuesday, June 9, instead of the original date of Tuesday, May 19 — allowing him more time to figure out the best approach while hoping to flatten the curve. He decided that, for the first time, New York would conduct all school board elections and budget votes via mail and all qualified voters would be sent an absentee ballot with return postage paid. 

We think that, considering the grave risks associated with going out in public right now, the governor made a very wise decision. It should not be a life or death decision to cast one’s vote in a Board of Education (BOE) election or for their school district’s budget.  And mingling in a school building with other district voters, gathering around voting machines and chatting with election inspectors, is certainly not the proper way to maintain safe social distancing during a pandemic. 

Yes, these are very important decisions that affect our everyday lives and those of our children, our families and our neighbors that we are talking about. We should absolutely participate in the process — do our research, ask the right questions, look at the numbers, weigh the pros and cons and consider the tax implications — after all, those of us who own property pay school taxes. And if you want a say in how your school district makes the decisions that affects how it budgets, which affects how it taxes, this is the time to weigh in. (As is your BOE’s budget process, which includes a public hearing, all of which is open to the public. This year, much of the process was done virtually, mostly via Zoom, due to the health crisis.)

Understand, if a school district’s budget doesn’t get passed in the first go-around with a 50% plus-1 simple majority vote, the school board has the option of putting out a fiscal plan that could be the same, less or more than what was presented in the first budget for a second vote. The BOE could also decide to go to a contingency budget. If the second budget doesn’t pass, the Board of Ed would automatically adopt a contingency budget, which means there would be a further reduction, to meet a 0% tax levy increase. 

And that contingency budget could be pretty meager. Extremely meager. It has the potential to be much less appealing than the original budget that voters rejected the first time. Just keep that in mind.

The point is that the responsibility is on the voting public to ensure the budget passes — if it’s acceptable — or doesn’t, and to see that the best BOE candidates are elected on Election Day — even if it’s a different kind of Election Day than we’re used to. 

That means, this year, despite the coronavirus (or maybe because of it), the onus is upon each and every qualified voter to take the initiative to mail in his or her ballot to his or her school district office by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9, Election Day. 

If, for some reason, you have not yet received your ballot in the mail, check with your school district clerk immediately. For details, read this week’s front page or go to your school district’s website.

And look for profiles on the many Harlem Valley candidates running in this year’s BOE elections throughout this week’s Millerton News. Do your part to be an informed voter.

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