By Assemblyman Will Barclay
The Assembly passed an early voting bill last week. I voted against this measure. At a time when localities are stretched to the max, this would create another unfunded mandate and change our current system when it doesn’t need to be changed.
Election Day is always the first Tuesday in November.
Currently, anyone who is registered to vote can do so at his or her polling place on Election Day or, if you are out of town on Election Day, you may vote by absentee ballot.
The bill that passed in the Assembly last week would extend Election Day to “Election Weeks.”
Pursuant to the legislation, polls would have to be open beginning the third Thursday before any general election and the second Thursday before a primary election, and they would close on the Thursday immediately preceding Election Day.
That means polls would have to be open two weeks before a general election and as many as eight days before a primary.
Having personally run for office numerous times and having been involved in countless campaigns, I know that elections are very fluid and things can substantially change right up to the last moments before Election Day.
Candidates know that in the weeks before Election Day, they have to work hard to meet voters and get their message out because it is at this time when voters are most focused on the candidates and the election. If Election Day becomes Election Weeks, that will substantially change the dynamics of campaigns and elections.
Voter turnout for a candidate may be strong on the first day of Election Weeks because that candidate is very popular at that moment.
Suppose, however, later in the week, issues come to light that are problematic for that candidate.
Those who had voted early will have no chance to change their vote. Having elections on one day as opposed for weeks works because everyone, candidates and voters, know when voters are going to the polls.
Candidates have up to that time to make their case to the voters.
Some have argued that restricting voting to one day is prohibitive especially for those who may not be otherwise available to vote on Election Day.
However, New York already has an effective system in place to deal with this issue – it is our absentee ballot system.
In New York, you can vote by absentee ballot if you are absent from your county (for any reason) on Election Day or you are unable to appear at the polls due to a temporary or permanent illness or disability.
Further, absentee ballots can be obtained as early as 30 days before an election.
An argument has also been made that early voting will increase voter turnout.
I have yet to see a study that shows this and, indeed, studies done in states that currently have early voting have concluded that early voting has not increased voter turnout.
Putting aside the question of how this would change the dynamics of elections, there is no doubt that changing Election Day to Election Weeks would be a substantial unfunded mandate on counties.
At least 25 counties have already passed resolutions in opposition to this bill because of the costs that will be incurred by the counties.
In Oswego County, for example, elections commissioners estimate costs of early voting could be as much as $150,000 each time an election is held. In Jefferson County, lawmakers estimate costs around $125,000. In Onondaga County, costs are estimated to increase at least $100,000.
If the state believes this is such a great idea, at the very least we should put our money where our mouth is and agree to fund the increased costs that will result from an extended voting period.
In general, I agree that we need to continue to examine our election laws to ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote has that opportunity.
However, whenever proposals are made to substantially change our election system that has been in place for generations, we need to take a hard look at what is being proposed to ensure that the benefits are as advertised and the negative consequences of the proposal don’t outweigh the benefits.
Unfortunately, the bill for early voting that passed the Assembly this week does not pass that test.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.
My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.
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