JAMESTOWN – Jamestown City Council is expressing concerns after officials say the National Comedy Center will no longer allow the county’s Board of Elections to host a polling site at the center.
Several council members voiced their disapproval of the non-profits recent move during Monday’s City Council session.
“I think we should do something to try and maintain the polling site,” says Councilman Thomas Nelson (D). “It’s not a good idea to change locations, I think that it adds to the confusion of people not voting as much.”
Councilmembers Vickye James (D) and Marie Carubba (D) also brought up concerns on how often the district’s polling site has changed over the years; and how that could lead to frustration on Election Day.
“Why has that district has had so many changes, that is a concern to me because that is the only one that has changed that often or as frequently as it has,” says Carubba.
The polling location for Jamestown’s Ward III has been held in the former Gateway Train Station since 2013. The Comedy Center acquired the building in 2016, with the Downtown Jamestown Revitalization transferring ownership at no cost, in turn keeping the rotunda open for public-use.
“The law says that non-for-profits are required to meet the stakes available in the State of New York, it’s part of their non-for-profit status, they’re to make room for poll sites,” Chautauqua County Democrat Commissioner Norm Green told WNY News Now. “The hammer is you’re supposed to lose your non-for-profit status.”
The election commissioner did not want to speak for the NCC as to why they will no longer rent the site to the Board of Elections, which in the past has paid $100 per day to use it.
Green says at this time his office refrains from reporting the organization to the New York State Attorney General’s office, however it is an option.
The polling site was previously at the nearby Ice Arena, however, in 2013 it was moved to the train station because of increased accessibility.
Some of the council members argue the train station portion should remain open to the public.
“That rotunda was supposed to be open to the public and accessed for the public and it seems like slowly over a period of time that area has been taken away from the public despite it being renovated by taxpayer funds,” says Council Member Jeff Russell (R).
In the next few weeks, Council Members and the Board of Elections will meet to discuss where a new site should be set up.
In a statement to WNY News Now, National Comedy Center officials say the polling site’s requirements impact their retail operations and in turn potential revenue. They additionally say COVID-19 concerns led to the decision not to rent the space to the local Board of Elections.
The full statement is posted below:
Since the National Comedy Center opened in 2018, it has been a polling site for five elections and has cooperated fully with the Election Commission on its needs for that space on election days. After numerous discussions with the Election Commission last summer, and with the continued growth of the Comedy Center’s publicly accessible retail venue, it became apparent that the Election Commission’s requirements will significantly compromise retail operations and the revenue it generates to support our non-profit mission – both in June, during the high season for visitors, and in November as holiday shopping commences. An added concern for 2021 is the ongoing COVID pandemic and the Comedy Center’s responsibility to ensure that all activities on the premises adhere to its stringent “LaughSafe” health and safety protocols in order to protect all Comedy Center visitors, shoppers, staff and volunteers.
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.
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.