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Assembly Democrats propose early voting

Proponents cite Hurricane Sandy as reason to make it easier to vote

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, left, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announce a bill that would enact an early voting period prior to elections to curb waiting time and lines. During the last general election, New York ranked 44 out of 50 in voter turnout partially due to Superstorm Sandy. Photo by Jess String.
May 06, 2013
Voting lines may be shorter this coming Election Day if a bill proposed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, is to pass in the Legislature.

The proposed bill (A.689-a) would institute early voting for all general, primary and special elections in the state. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was present alongside Silver at a press conference last Tuesday to announce a bill that would enact a 15-day early voting period prior to general elections and an eight-day early voting period will occur for primary and special elections to curb the waiting time for voters standing in line to cast their ballots.

"There is a very simple principal at work here. As far as I am concerned any law, regulation or rule that makes it easier for eligible voters to register and vote is a good law, regulation or rule," Schneiderman said. "Any law, regulation or rule that makes it harder for eligible voters to register and vote is a bad and to me, un-American law, regulation or rule."

At the press conference, Schneiderman said that in the 2012 general election, New York ranked 44 out of 50 in terms of voter turnout throughout the country. According to the US Census Bureau, 18 percent of registered non-voters said they did not vote because they were either too busy or because of conflicting work or school schedules. An additional 15 percent reported they did not vote because of an illness, disability or family emergency.

Silver cited Superstorm Sandy as a reason voter turnout was low during this past election. "I am certain more than a few families in New York state would say that the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy constituted a family emergency when Election Day rolled around last year," Silver said. "In fact, our voter turnout rate for the 2012 general election was approximately 59.5 percent, among the lowest in the nation and lower than the 64.2 percent turnout rate for the 2008 general election. We can do better."

Under the bill, each local Board of Elections will designate at least four polling places for voters to cast early ballots and an additional site at the local Board of Elections. The total five locations must be geographically located in such a way to provide voters equal access to the polling places.

"If you look at the history of low voter turnout and certainly the problems caused by Superstorm Sandy during this past Election Day, it only makes sense to institute early voting," said Chair of the Election Law Committee Michael Cusick. "This legislation will make it more convenient for workers with long commutes as well as seniors. It will also alleviate confusion and strain at the polls on Election Day evidenced by the fact that almost 30 percent of voters, nationally, chose to utilize early voting in presidential elections."

Diana Kasdan, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice also cited Superstorm Sandy as a reason why voters did not cast their ballots. "After Hurricane Sandy strained voters and poll workers last November, we all recognize that change to our election system is vital. Fortunately, one part of the solution, early voting, has a proven track record. It is already available in more than half of the country, hugely popular and benefits election officials and voters alike."

The early voting polling areas would 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. The ballots cast during the early voting period will be counted at the close of the polls on Election Day and will be included in the election night tally.

"We are not breaking new ground here," Silver said. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia allow voters to cast early ballots.

According to the bill, early voting would be conducted in the same manner as it would on Election Day and the protocols for the polling places would remain the same. The Board of Elections will still be required to provide election inspectors and poll clerks at all early voting locations. Voters will be notified by mail when and where the early voting sites will be.

"Democracy thrives when as many citizens as possible participate in the electoral process," Silver said. "Reality is that people work, people have family obligations, people have other circumstances that hinder their ability to visit their polling places to cast their ballots. Never the less, here in New York our right to vote in person is limited to a set number of hours in a single day. Our right to elect our government representatives is the heart and soul of our democracy, clearly we do not treat it as such. This must be changed."

There is no same-as bill in the Republican-controlled Senate and no Republican sponsors for the Assembly bill.

"The heart of our system of republican democracy is everyone who can participate, should participate," Schneiderman said.

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