ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed $7 million for counties statewide to keep at least one poll location open every day for 12 days leading to Election Day, an amount that may not be enough to cover local governments’ costs.
The governor proposed the $7 million, one of several 30-day amendments to his 2019 Executive Budget, as part of his push for early voting, which he included in his budget proposal this year.
“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and no one should have to choose between exercising their sacred right to vote and going to work, school or personal commitments,” Cuomo said. “By offering early voting across the state, we are further breaking down barriers to democracy and helping to ensure that all New Yorkers’ voices are heard.”
The governor’s proposal would require all counties to offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site during the 12 days leading up to Election Day, with one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents. The county boards of elections would determine the location of the polling sites. Voters would have at least eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots.
Cuomo also proposed same-day voter registration, allowing people to register to vote on Election Day, a policy that received criticism from right-wing politicians and advocates who say it could cause widespread voter fraud.
The governor also proposed motor-voter registration, which automatically registers voters by requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to automatically send someone’s information to boards of election through DMV applications. Applicants would be required to check a box to opt out of registration.
Now the state Legislature will consider the proposal during the 17 session days left before the April 1 deadline for a state budget for 2018-19.
“I think [early voting] makes sense. Not everyone can take that day off. Some jobs even give workers incentives to work on days like that, such as double pay,” said Karen Weiss, of Catskill. “This could make it more manageable to come in and vote.”
County boards of elections generally oppose the plan, which could help more voters get to the polls but could put more financial burdens on local governments.
“We need to see how the proposal develops,” said Greene County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Brent Bogardus. Bogardus is also chair of the Greene County Republican Committee. “At the end of the day will this be an additional cost to the county with more poll workers and inspectors? Yes.”
It is not easy to estimate what the cost will be for counties, Bogardus said, but any one polling district, out of 52 election districts in Greene County, requires four inspectors, who normally get paid $175 a day.
“Seven million dollars is not a lot of money when you are talking statewide. It could be a significant cost, or not,” Bogardus said. “But for a small county such as Greene County, with budget constraints, any additional cost can be significant.”
Columbia County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Virginia Martin opposes early voting, arguing that it could cause flaws in the voting process, cost more money and is not proven to increase voter turnout.
“I do not favor early voting. I do not believe that it will result in increased voter turnout. Studies have shown that it does not, and some even show that it decreases voter turnout,” Martin said. “My understanding is that it does not bring new voters to the polls. Instead, it brings the same voters that otherwise would have voted on election day to the polls before election day.”
New York saw a 57.3 percent eligible voter turnout rate for the 2016 elections, ranking 38th in turnout among all other states. New York tied with Nevada and South Carolina, and some states’ rates were unavailable, according to data collected by the U.S. Election Project.
Martin noted a study of voter turnout during the 2004 and 2008 elections titled, “Election Laws, Mobilization, and Turnout: The Unanticipated Consequences of Election Reform,” by Barry Burden, David Canon, Kenneth Mayer and Donald Moynihan, that found that voter turnout actually decreases when early voting is implemented on its own.
Early voting will be costly. It will require many more staff hours at the Board of Elections and certainly at the one or two poll sites in Columbia County that it would require,” Martin said. “It will complicate election administration and put sensitive election materials that require tight security out in the field for multiple days, and I have not seen a model for how those materials might be secured over the course of those days. I can only imagine that securing election materials over such a time period will be complicated and costly and will introduce unnecessary risks. When the end result is the same or decreased turnout, I cannot see the advantage to introducing early voting.”
Bogardus, like many Republicans, is fundamentally opposed to early voting, saying it cuts campaigns short, which he calls a disservice to voters.
“People should vote on Election Day as much as possible,” Bogardus said. “That gives voters a full picture of a campaign.”
Corinne Robbins, of Canaan, has an elderly mother who lives and Florida and votes early.
“It is tough for some people to vote on a certain day; you could be a student or work two jobs or be elderly,” Robbins said. “Twelve days is not going to make much of a difference if your mind is already made up.”
New York is among 20 other states that do not offer early voting or no-excuse absentee voting, which allows people to vote with absentee ballots regardless of the reason, something Martin said she supports. Thirty-four states, including the District of Columbia, offer early voting, but many also offer no-excuse absentee voting, and 12 states offer no-excuse absentee voting without in-person early voting.
“[Early voting] makes sense with the way things work these days,” said Adam Gale, of Hudson. “It makes sense to give people more time to vote.”
Martin said she approves other voting reforms, including automatic registration, which Cuomo also proposed as part of his election reform package.
“There are election-modernization practices that I strongly support, such as automatic opt-out registration for all eligible persons, permanent registration in the state so registration would follow a voter from county to county, no-excuse absentee voting and consolidating primaries on a single day in June,” Martin said.