The institution of early voting in New York State – which some have seen as one solution to the city’s recent problem-plagued elections — got a boost when Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed support for it during his State of the State address earlier this month.
Cuomo called for at least one week of early voting immediately preceding Election Day, including the weekend immediately before it, to enable people to vote more easily.
In both the two primaries and the general election in New York City in 2012, there were numerous reports of problems, including long waits to vote, and people being sent from one polling place to another.
Turnout was also low in the June primary for federal candidates as well as in the September primary for candidates for state offices, which was held on a Thursday instead of the customary Tuesday.
It was problems like these that had voting reform advocates calling for major changes in the way New York conducts elections, from early voting and eliminating the need for excuses to file absentee ballots to ministerial changes aimed at making it easier for city residents to register to vote and locate their polling places, among other things.
Currently, 32 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of early voting.
Brooklyn Councilmember Jumaane Williams, who represents Flatbush and East Flatbush, was among the elected officials praising Cuomo for putting early voting front and center.
“Election reform is sorely needed,” stressed Williams, “which is why I strongly support Governor Cuomo’s call for early voting. Our democracy cannot afford to repeat the disaster of recent elections. Over the last several years, New York State has ranked at the bottom in the nation in terms of voter turnout. Greater civic engagement should be the goal of all governments, including our own.”
Bay Ridge/Bensonhurst Councilmember Vincent Gentile agreed. “Councilman Gentile has called for major reforms to the current voting system, and has devised and endorsed several proposals towards improving New Yorkers’ voting experience, including early voting,” said Justin Brannan, Gentile’s press secretary. “We need to be making voting easier for people, not more difficult. Early voting has worked in many states, and has helped shorten lines and reduce chaos on Election Day – and after what happened in November, I think we can all agree: it’s time.”
Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, who represents North Brooklyn, has already signed on to legislation introduced by Speaker Sheldon Silver that would authorized early voting for the two weeks prior to Election Day and a week prior to any primary.
Noting that New York State – where just 49 percent of voters came out on Election Day – had the third lowest turnout nationwide, Lentol urged, ““Many people have difficulty getting to the polls on one particular day. By introducing innovative solutions, such as early voting and no excuse absentee voting, you will give countless people more opportunities to come out and vote.”
Flatbush/Midwood Assemblymember Rhoda Jacobs has also signed onto early voting legislation. Citing the numerous voting problems encountered by her constituents, Jacobs stressed, “Long lines to vote and problems at polling sites on Election Day too often discourage people from participating in the electoral process and disenfranchise our citizens. The abysmal voting conditions that Flatbush and Midwood voters have been subjected to in recent elections cannot be allowed to become the status quo.”
State Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents portions of Brownstone Brooklyn and Manhattan, agreed. “The governor’s proposal to bring early voting to New York would help ensure that every voter has a chance to get to the polls and make their voice heard,” he said, stressing, “We should be doing whatever we can to make voting more accessible.”
But Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who represents Bay Ridge as well as portions of Staten Island, had a different take on the idea. “I have concerns about how much this initiative will cost,” she told this paper. “So far no one, not even the sponsor of the legislation, has been able to determine how much early voting will cost taxpayers.”
State Senator Marty Golden, who represents a swath of southern Brooklyn from Bay Ridge through Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst to Marine Park, Manhattan Beach and Gerritsen Beach, also expressed reservations.
John Quaglione, Golden’s deputy chief of staff, noted, “Senator Golden is open to discussions on how best to avoid the debacle we saw at the polls this past election, that included long lines and confusion. Before Senator Golden can endorse any legislation, he will need to see the bill and the process for implementation and the cost. Senator Golden will also consider this bill and the impact it would have on the current absentee voting system already in place.”
To become law, early voting must be approved by two successive legislatures and then the voters through a referendum.
Additional reporting contributed by Lindsey Ellefson and Heather J. Chin.