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Jewish voters to leave church for library poll

Some voters were upset that polling was originally to be held at St. Nicholas of Tolentine because of their religious beliefs. Photo by Yinghao Luo
TimesLedger Newspapers

Kew Gardens Hills residents who were concerned that voting at their new polling site at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church would violate their religious beliefs can rest easier now that polling has been moved to the Kew Gardens Hills Library.

Kew Gardens Hills has a large Jewish population, and some Jews believe it is a violation of their faith to enter a church, mosque or any other house of worship of a different religion.

“It’s an issue for certain people that religiously don’t feel it’s right to ask them to vote in a church,” said state Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Electchester).

Simanowitz has been working with the city Board of Elections to identify polling places that may be more amenable to voters than those the board assigned to some districts.

He said another problem with the St. Nicholas site is that it is miles from some residents, which can be a burdensome travel distance for some people, especially seniors.

The polling had been moved to St. Nicholas, at 150-75 Goethals Ave., because the previous polling place at PS 164 was deemed unsuitable by the U.S. Justice Department since it was not handicap-accessible as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The new site, at the Kew Gardens Hills Library, is at 72-33 Vleigh Place.

Simanowitz said the BOE has been accommodating in finding alternative polling places when communities complain that a site poses a barrier to voting.

He expressed frustration with the Justice Department, however, for shutting down polling sites that do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act without also providing funds for projects to help make polling sites handicap-accessible, such as adding ramps to stairs.

He said several schools in Queens were shut down as polling sites because they were not handicap-accessible, but there are often few other options that can be used instead.

“Unfortunately, there’s a limited amount of space that’s willing to be a poll site,” Simanowitz said.

The district manager of Community Board 8, Marie Adam-Ovide, said she had received some calls from people upset about the polling place at St. Nicholas.

She said while she had not heard official word the site had been moved, she did not think voting at the Kew Gardens Hills Library would pose a problem to people.

But she did say she hopes there is no conflict with planned renovations that are expected to start there soon.

Simanowitz said there may be yet another short-term polling site used in the election district when the library undergoes renovations.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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