A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
The Assembly Majority is once again advancing an early voting bill through committees with a vote expected on the floor in the near future.
The Governor is also making his push for early voting in his budget this year.
While there are slight differences between the two proposals, both would result in another unfunded mandate and change our current system when it does not 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 Assembly bill would extend elections seven days prior to each special election, primary election and general election day.
Pursuant to the legislation, one polling site would have to be made available for every 50,000 registered voters with at least one site in each county and up to seven in each county.
The sites would need to be open for at least eight hours a day and at least one site would have to be open until 8 p.m. on two weekdays during this period.
Polls at the early voting sites would close the Sunday before Election Day.
The Governor’s proposal would extend this early voting period even further to 12 days.
In both cases, counties would be responsible for promoting poll sites and informing the public and paying for any associated costs.
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 days or even 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 to 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 and hand delivered to the county board of elections up to one day 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.
In the past, counties across the state have passed resolutions in opposition to this bill because of the costs that will be incurred by the counties.
For example, Oswego County officials estimate costs could exceed $175,000 each time an election is held.
This estimate includes money needed for poll sites, inspectors, transporting equipment, temporary workers and advertising.
If the Governor and the Assembly Majority believe this is such a great idea, at the very least the state should to fund the increased costs.
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, we need to ensure that the negative consequences of the proposal don’t outweigh the supposed benefits.
Unfortunately, the bill for early voting does not pass that test.
As such, I voted against this measure in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee last week and plan to vote against this measure on the floor.
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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