The first grades are in on the 2019 early-voting experiment in New York state and the average scores range from poor to passable in Greene and Columbia counties: Too much money and effort spent on too little return, too few new voters were enticed to come to the polls, a case of the staffing shorts.
In Greene County, 638 people voted early, but the county incurred an additional estimated $30,000 cost to offer early voting for nine days from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3. “We had to have inspectors to man the poll site, pay overtime for the board of elections staff, have additional security on two different weekends and have additional ballots available,” Greene County Election Commissioner Brent Bogardus said Tuesday.
Bogardus said he does not believe the goal of early voting was achieved.
“If new people were participating or we were increasing the voter turnout, maybe I would have a different view,” he said. “The turnout was soft at best. Two percent of enrolled voters participated. For the cost of the program versus the marginal benefit, I think it was a waste of time and money. The people who voted, had a history of voting — they are not new voters.”
A somewhat different story unfolded in Columbia County.
Columbia County Election Commissioner Virginia Martin described the early-voting preparations as “resource-intensive,” but she did not have an estimate Tuesday of how much the transition cost the county. But voters turned out.
To its credit, Columbia County had the highest percentage of early voters in the state, with 7.5% or 3,371 of the 45,201 registered voters casting early ballots.
“I think voters found early voting to be very convenient and they liked it very much,” Martin said. “The board is very happy to be able to make voting convenient and easy.”
“There is no denying, though, that it represented an outsized effort for our board, and it’s clear to me that with the number of staff that we have now, we will not be able to sustain another round of early voting,” Martin said.
Voters were in short supply and most staff worked 12-hour, 15-hour and in a few cases 19-hour days, some since Oct. 25 and still others since Columbus Day, including the holiday and Saturdays and Sundays without a break. If Bogardus’ estimated expenditure proves out, Greene County spent around $47 per voter. That doesn’t seem like a bargain these days. It’s too soon to gauge whether early voting in the Twin Counties was a waste of time and money, but it’s clear that it achieved only limited success.