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New Yorkers Embracing First Early Voting

Mark Henry (left) and Election Commissioner Greg Campbell run through a mock voter processing
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Mark Henry (left) and Election Commissioner Greg Campbell run through a mock voter processing

More than 130,000 New Yorkers have already voted in the November elections, as part of the state’s first early voting. And those who are closely watching say so far, it’s been a largely successful rollout. 

Ralph Carter was among those casting their ballots early, in the city of Rochester.

“I’m so glad that this law was passed,” Carter said.

Kristen French, also voting in downtown Rochester, said she even went a little out of her way to participate.

“It was slightly inconvenient because I normally would not come down here, I would go walk across the street to my voting place, “French said. “But I wanted, just mainly, to be a part of the process.”

The early voting began Oct. 26 and continues through Nov. 3. The process differs from county to county. In some counties, there are several polling places available for voters to go to. A few counties have assigned polling sites. And in 34 counties with smaller populations, there is just one polling site.  All voters can cast their ballot at their county board of elections offices. Many counties for the first time are using electronic poll books to keep track of voters, and new high tech printers to quickly produce ballots     

Jennifer Wilson, with the League of Women Voters, says so far, so good.

"I’m pretty pleased so far with the results,” Wilson said. “Even with the new machinery, it seems like things have been running smoothly.”

She says even in case where people have had to wait a bit, they have not become irritated.

“They don’t mind waiting,” Wilson said. “They are excited just to vote early for the first time.”

Susan Lerner, with the government reform group Common Cause, has been observing early voting in New York City, and she says she has not heard of any major issues.

“They are the kind of things we would expect to see at the very beginning of using new technology,” said Lerner. “And the great thing about early voting is that if you have a problem in the morning, you have time to fix it. You don’t have to worry about disenfranchising any voters." 

Common Cause and the League of Women Voters say the law does need some tweaks. They say many of the counties with just one early voting place are rural and relatively large, and voters may have to drive too far just to vote.

Lerner says the counties who have assigned voters just one polling spot should make more sites available in future elections.

“We hope all New York counties will do what most of the  counties do,” Lerner said. “Which is that a voter can go to any early voting site in their county.”

Wilson says there should be a requirement that a polling site be located in the largest urban area in that county.

Rensselaer County decided not to include a polling site in the city of Troy, and located its two locations in a suburban and a rural area.

“We’re definitely going to push to have them in those cities,” Wilson said. “So that people who don’t have access to transportation or younger people who are students can access those sites.”

Wilson says the League of Women Voters has a survey on its website asking voters about their experiences, and what they might like to see done differently. She says over 700 voters have already responded, and all but two say they’d vote early again.  

More voters are expected to take advantage of early voting over the weekend.

The groups say they hope this fall’s early voting success so far means that the state will be prepared for the high-profile elections in 2020. They include the presidential primary in April, and the general election in November. 

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