Assembly takes first step to establish early voting in New York State

Six months after a general election that saw long waits to vote in many polling places, as well as post-Sandy chaos that had voters from areas hard hit by the super-storm scrambling to find a place to cast a vote, the state Assembly is poised to pass legislation to establish early voting in New York State.

The Assembly passage would be the first step in a long process. In order to become law, the bill would have to be passed by the state Senate, approved again by the next legislature and then  approved by a majority of voters for the state to institute voting in advance of Election Day – a mechanism that currently exists in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

The bill – whose prime sponsor is Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and which has 16 co-sponsors including Brooklyn Assemblymembers James Brennan, Alec Brook-Krasny, Steven Cymbrowitz, Joseph Lentol, Alan Maisel, Nick Perry and Helene Weinstein — does not yet have a Senate sponsor.

The Assembly bill would mandate a 15-day early voting period for general elections, and an eight-day early voting period for primaries and special elections, further requiring that each local Board of Elections designate a minimum of four polling places where early votes could be cast, to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends during the early voting period.

“Early voting will make voting easier, more convenient and more accessible in our state,” said Silver.

“Many people have difficulty getting to the polls on one particular day,” stressed Lentol. “By introducing innovative solutions such as early voting and no excuse absentee voting, we will give countless people more opportunities to come out and vote.”

Voters would also benefit from shorter lines at polling places, said Maisel, who emphasized, “Voting is a fundamental right in our democracy and we have to find ways to get more people involved in the process. Increasing voter participation is extremely important to me because it will make our democracy more representative.”

“The bill attempts to make the act of voting more user-friendly for New Yorkers,” agreed Cymbrowitz.

New York ranks 48th out of the 50 states in percentage of voters, according to a 2010 report by the mayor’s office. According to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, voter turnout in November, 2012 was approximately  59.5 percent, a significant decline from the general turnout in New York State for the 2008 general election: 64.2 percent.

Local election reform advocates applauded the move. “This marks the first time any house in the New York State legislature has passed early voting, which is critical to modernizing our elections,” said Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey. “Early voting will make it more convenient for voters to cast their ballot and encourage participation in our democracy which is sorely needed since New York State ranks 48th among states in voter turnout.”

Numerous elected officials on the city and state level had called for New York to adopt early voting after last year’s election. “Imagine if we were a swing state,” Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger had contended at a City Hall press conference held just days after Election Day. “Imagine if we got the number of voters we want to be getting.”

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