A dispute between the commissioners of the Ulster County Board of Elections could cost taxpayers upwards of $200,000 if it is not resolved in the next two weeks.
The commissioners must submit locations and times for early voting during the nine days, before the November elections, to the New York State Board of Elections by May 29 to be considered for state assistance to fund voting equipment.
The Republican and Democratic commissioners are locked in a fight over locations.
Democrat Ashley Dittus has suggested some early voting locations in the county's largest communities — Kingston, Saugerties, New Paltz, and Wawarsing — because they are population centers and easy to get to.
Republican Thomas Turco wants the locations to be in rural areas outside of large municipalities, claiming they better serve the entire region and the venues are better.
Turco refused comment for this story, but made his case for rural locations in multiple emails to Dittus.
"Unfortunately, we cannot put early voting in every town," Turco wrote in a May 14 email that was shared with Spectrum News. "We have to consider what serves the voters in the county best, not just individual towns."
Dittus wrote back.
"The [state election] law however does [say we] need to be mindful of existing population centers and to not have an Early Voting Center in the City of Kingston, the Town of New Paltz, and the Town of Saugerties in your recommendations is not a plan I will agree to," she replied a few hours later.
Wednesday, Dittus was especially concerned about the commissioners' impasse over New Paltz. Dittus suggests an early voting location at SUNY New Paltz that would serve the town and surrounding areas.
Turco suggests keeping the location away from campus and the town altogether, and putting a location in Gardiner — about six miles south of New Paltz and much less accessible by foot, bike, or bus.
"SUNY is not a good location regardless of what has been offered," Turco said. "Early Voting is NOT about one Town, it is about the entire County Voting Populace. Rosendale and Gardiner provide much better sites with easier access."
Dittus said state guidelines on population density, proximity to bus routes, travel time to the polling location from voters' homes, and commuter traffic patterns are being ignored by her counterpart — possibly for political reasons.
"I think not having an early voting location in New Paltz is a disservice to those voters in New Paltz," Dittus said. "It is our second-largest town. This is a central hub for the southern part of Ulster County. To not have a site in New Paltz is to not speak to the spirit of what early voting is, which is to make it easier for voters to cast a ballot."
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, a New York State BOE spokesperson said he hopes the dispute ends soon, since statute requires plans to be submitted by the State BOE's deadline for any county BOE to be eligible for assistance.
He added that just two other counties have not yet submitted plans for times and locations.
Local BOEs may be eligible for $30,000 per location to fund voting equipment and technology, but if the Ulster County BOE misses the deadline, the costs may be taken on by the county and in turn passed on to taxpayers, according to Dittus.
After Ditus notified county and state lawmakers, the chairman of the Ulster County Legislature's Laws and Rules Committee scheduled a hearing for Monday to hear from both commissioners on why they have not submitted their plans to the state.
Dittus said since a recent meeting with Turco to discuss locations ended badly after just five minutes, the two have been negotiating from their offices — just feet away from each other — over email.
Her latest email signals negotiations are falling apart.
"I’m more than happy to meet in hopes of selecting the most equitable sites for the voters," Dittus said. "But I am concerned your dictated constraints on our decision making process will not allow for honest discourse."