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Wide Differences In Early Voting Rules In NY


This fall, New Yorkers will have their first ever opportunity to vote early in November’s elections. Polls will be open a full 10 days before the November 5 Election Day — but the logistics will vary depending on where you live.

Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York State, says she’s hopeful that voters will be eager to take part in an option already offered in 38 other states.

“It will tell people, ‘Oh my gosh, I can go vote at this place, any time for nine days before Election Day,'” said Ladd Bierman.

Early voting begins Saturday, October 26 and continues through Sunday, November 3. But the rules on exactly where to go to cast a ballot might be confusing.

In New York, individual counties make up the rules for voting, so there is no uniform statewide system. As a result, the procedures for when and where early voting will happen will be different in each county.

Bierman says 18 counties, including Erie, Monroe and Onondaga counties, will offer a choice of several different polling places. 34 counties with relatively low populations and numbers of registered voters are each required to have just one site for everyone to access, at the county Board of Elections. Some of the counties in northern New York cover wide swaths of land, though, and some voters might have to drive a couple of hours to reach their county’s site.

Nine counties, including the five boroughs of New York City, and Albany, Westchester, Suffolk and Orange Counties, are assigning voters to just one polling site for early voting. That’s because all of their voter records are kept on paper. They have not been digitalized, and can’t easily transfer the information on the voter rolls from one site to another.

“They are paper poll books that you sign in on,” said Ladd Bierman.

The counties lack two key pieces of equipment. One is an electronic poll book, which would allow any poll worker at any site to access a voter’s registration information. The other is what’s known as on-demand printers. They would create access to all of the different ballots required for each election in the county. In a year of local races, that’s a lot of ballots.

Ladd Biermann says in fairness, those counties and the others have faced obstacles. She says the money to set up the systems came late. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget office did not release the full $10 million in funding approved in the April state budget until August 29. The governor’s budget office says there was no lag in sending out the funds — the money is meant to reimburse counties after they have already invested in the equipment needed for early voting. Department of the Budget Spokesman Freeman Kloppett says the counties should also be able to find savings because the number of primaries have been consolidated next year.

“The current enacted budget is providing $10 million to local governments on a reimbursement basis to support early voting, $14.7 million in funding for e-poll books," said Kloppett in a statement. “State and federal primaries have also been consolidated, which will save local governments an estimated $25 million.”

Bierman says there are also security concerns about the voter rolls, and making sure that they are not accessible to potential hackers.

“There was also issues on getting the staff trained on it,” she said.

2019 is a local election year, and turnout is traditionally lower than years when there are statewide or presidential contests.

Ladd Bierman says she’s hopeful that the kinks can be worked out of the system by the 2020 presidential elections next year, when there is expected to be keen interest in the contest.

“This is a great way to try the system and figure out what didn’t work,” she said. “So that in the 2020 election we can have it really running well.”

The League of Women Voters has set up a website to help voters, listing information from the local county boards of election about sites and the times when polls will be open.  It can be reached through their own website.

She says that if voters don’t want to vote early, they have to remember that their polling place on Election Day will likely be different from the site where the early voting is taking place.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.