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Calls Grow Louder For Expanded Early Voting Hours In New York

Voters line up in the snow outside the Bought Community Fire District building in Cohoes in Albany County on Oct. 30, 2020.
Jim Levulis
Voters line up in the snow outside the Bought Community Fire District building in Cohoes in Albany County on Oct. 30, 2020.

UPDATE: The Saratoga County Board of Elections announced after publication of this story that early voting will be extended by two hours on Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

New York’s first year of early voting in a presidential election has led to long lines of enthusiastic – and sometimes frustrated – voters.

On Tuesday, Schenectady County announced that its Board of Elections would extend early voting by an extra hour on Saturday and Sunday, after high turnout.

But in neighboring Saratoga County, which has also seen long lines in a week of volatile weather, no decision has yet been made on whether to extend voting hours.

The county has three polling locations, including one in the Town of Clifton Park. Republican Town Supervisor Phil Barrett says he wants the county’s two elections commissioners to expand early voting hours this weekend – as of now, polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Barrett says his request is not a criticism of the BOE.

“They have a lot on their plate and we understand that and we’re not trying to add to that work load but…maybe we are. Because many of us believe that keeping those polls open those few hours on Saturday and Sunday will make a big difference,” said Barrett.

WAMC left a message for Saratoga County’s Elections Commissioners Roger Schiera, a Republican, and William Fruci, a Democrat, Friday morning.

Tara Gaston, Democratic Supervisor for Saratoga Springs, wants expanded voting hours Friday, Saturday and Sunday. She said she visited all three of Saratoga County’s early voting sites on Thursday.

“And everyone was very happy to be there and happy to wait in line but they shouldn’t have to for that period of time. Voting should be a lot easier. And I think it has not been a priority of Saratoga County to expand access. The minimum has been acceptable,” said Gaston.

Gaston and fellow Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matt Veitch, a Republican, were the sole votes against including an item in the county’s legislative agenda for 2018 that advocated against a state budget amendment by Governor Andrew Cuomo to bring 12 days of early voting across the state and include one polling place for every 50,000 registered voters.

The early voting law passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor in 2019 established a nine-day early voting period, requiring one polling place per 50,000 voters, and allows counties to establish up to seven early voting locations for the convenience of voters.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has called for an extension of early voting hours across New York this weekend. On Thursday, the organization filed a lawsuit against Rockland County, citing “unacceptably” long lines and lack of accommodations for voters with disabilities who require them.  

New York’s early voting law includes a provision that states early-voting lines shall not exceed 30 minutes.

There are also calls for a similar extension in Ulster County.

NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement:

“The accessibility of our voting sites reflects the health of our democracy, and we will do everything in our power to make sure every voter can cast their ballot.”

Many more polling sites will be open for Election Day on Tuesday. New York voters with absentee ballots can drop off their ballots at polling locations or return them by mail, postmarked by November 3rd.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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