Group Calls on Publicly Funded Cultural Institutions to Serve As Poll Sites

Common Cause/NY, Sen. Krueger, MN BP Gale Brewer + MN BP Candidates

NEW YORK, NY (09/09/2020) (readMedia)-- With less than six weeks until early voting begins, Common Cause/NY along with Senator Liz Krueger, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee NYC Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, and candidates running for Manhattan Borough President, urged cultural institutions, like the Met Museum and Lincoln Center, to become early voting and election day poll sites for the November election. Only a few cultural institutions like the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the 92Y already serve as poll sites, and last month, both Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center agreed to as well.

"So many publicly funded cultural institutions across the City are either empty, or less trafficked, freeing up the perfect space for voters to cast their ballots safely. We're glad to see Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden step up to become poll sites, but other cultural institutions need to do their civic duty too. New York can be both the cultural center of the world and a shining beacon of democracy," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

Cultural institutions receive tax breaks and exemptions, in addition to funding from city, state and federal governments. According to an analysis done by WNYC, over 40 cultural institutions in New York received a combined $580 million in property tax breaks from the City last year. In exchange for tax breaks, institutions are legally supposed to make their spaces available as poll sites. Only a few, such as the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image and the 92Y, have stepped up the plate. Because of COVID-19, many cultural institutions may not have the same scheduled in-door programming, freeing up much space for voters.

"It is critical that New Yorkers be able to safely exercise their right to vote. Ensuring we have enough polling places, and that those locations are large enough to follow COVID safety protocols, is a necessary step to make polling places accessible to anyone who chooses to use them. By exempting schools from use as Early Voting sites, but requiring the participation of cultural institutions that receive significant state grant funding, we can protect both our democracy and the health of our people," said State Senator Liz Krueger.

"Cultural institutions are part of the fabric of our city's past, present, and future, and it makes perfect sense that the Board of Elections should work with them to play a significant role in our democracy," said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. "I call on our museums, concert halls, theaters, and other venues who have the capacity and are accessible to help set the stage for a safe election process for their neighborhoods."

"Our City's cultural organizations have always been at the heart of our democracy. Because art and artists create a world where the open exchange of ideas is possible. So it makes sense that wherever and whenever possible, culturals should be used as polling sites, increasing access to voting and bringing democracy closer to her people, which the arts has always done," said NYC Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, Chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee.

"We need more early voting and poll sites across the city and state to make it easier and more convenient for New Yorkers to vote during the pandemic in this upcoming election, which may be the most consequential of our lifetimes. Nonprofits and cultural institution with the appropriate space that receive tax dollars have a civic responsibility to help New Yorkers vote by opening their doors for early voting and polling sites. That's why I voted for and am a co-sponsor of S.6930 by Senator Krueger to make it a requirement in state law that taxpayer-subsidized nonprofits and cultural institutions take the pressure off of our public schools and serve as early voting and polling sites," said Candidate for Manhattan Borough President, Brad Hoylman.

"The stakes in this election are arguably higher than even before--and so are the challenges to our normal way of voting. The risks of the pandemic mean many of the smaller voting sites in Manhattan would simply be too crowded. We need larger, more open spaces to give voters and poll workers room to safely spread out. Our borough's cultural spaces represent an important resource that should be tapped for this critical purpose," said Candidate for Manhattan Borough President, Mark Levine.

"We must all do our part in the work to facilitate voting. With the Postal Service under siege and long lines at polling stations being used as weapons to discourage voting during good times now that we are dealing with Covid-19 and entire populations are at risk, we need more poll sites for safe socially distanced election. Cultural institutions like the 92Y in my district are already doing their part, but it is time for every cultural institution from the Met to Lincoln Center to step up for early voting and Election Day. Culture is often the first under attack as nations slip toward fascism and the best thing they can do to preserve our rich cultural history is to help protect our democracy," said Candidate for Manhattan Borough President, Ben Kallos. "Thank you to Common Cause and State Senator Liz Krueger on this vital issue."

"Now, more than ever, it is critical that all New Yorkers do their part to encourage voting, to ensure that every vote is counted, and to do so safely. The stakes are too high to treat this as just any other election. Our city's incredible cultural institutions and public libraries would serve as fantastic partners to make voting this year safe, easy, and accessible for all New Yorkers," said Candidate for Manhattan Borough President, Elizabeth Caputo.

"As election day approaches and voting concerns arise, we must ensure that every New Yorker is able to exercise their right to vote. Mail in/absentee voting is an excellent option, but many voters have lost trust in the federal government's commitment to the 2020 election. We also cannot repeat the disaster that so many voters experienced during the June primary," said Candidate for Manhattan Borough President, Kim Watkins. "One venue that will be functioning as a voting location is Madison Square Garden, a Midtown sports center important to many New Yorkers and sports fans. Staff members at the stadium will be given PPE and follow strict safety guidelines. This is the kind of thinking that will help New York ensure that all votes are counted, and we fully support the call to cultural, entertainment and other institutions to follow MSG's example. Whether it's casting a vote for President in the Temple of Dendur at The Metropolitan Museum, selecting your NY State Senator underneath the whale at the American Museum of Natural History, or supporting your NY Assembly Member by voting at the Jacob Javits Center, your vote must be counted in this historic race. City leaders must prioritize solutions to ensure that all New Yorkers have the chance to cast their ballots this November."

Voters have three ways to vote this fall: absentee, early or on Election Day. Voters can request their absentee ballot now and either return it by mail or drop it off at their early voting or election day poll site or local Board of Elections by Election Day, November 3. Early voting starts October 24th and runs through November 1st.