In an effort to eliminate barriers to casting a ballot and encourage voter turnout, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Election Law Committee Chair Michael Cusick announced today the passage of legislation (A689-A) to enact early voting in all General, Primary and Special elections in New York.
"It is long past time for New York to join the ranks of 32 other states and the District of Columbia who offer the ease and convenience of early voting. This is a common sense, time-tested approach that will include more qualified voters in our electoral process. All New Yorkers, regardless of personal or professional time commitments, should be able to vote in each and every election," said Silver.
Under the provisions of this legislation, a 15-day early voting period for general elections and an eight day early voting period for primary and special elections would be established.
"The implementation of early voting is a simple solution to reduce Election Day congestion," said Cusick. "This would end long lines and eliminate scheduling conflicts for working New Yorkers and primary caregivers. It will increase access for individuals with disabilities or illness. It will result in a better voting experience and encourage participation in future elections."
Voter participation in November 2012 was approximately 59.5 percent in New York, amongst the lowest in the nation. It is lower than the 64.2 percent turnout rate for the 2008 general election.
According to the US Census Bureau of registered non-voters, 18 percent reported that they did not vote because they were 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.
Under the bill, each local Board of Elections (BOE) must designate at least four polling places for voters to cast an early ballot, in addition to a site at the local BOE, for a total of at least five polling places. The bill allows the BOE the flexibility to add additional early voting sites as needed. The sites must be geographically located to provide voters equal access.
Early voting polls would be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each week day and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday during the early voting period. Ballots cast during the early voting period will be counted at the close of the polls on Election Day and included in the election night tally.
Early voting would be conducted in the same manner as takes place on Election Day. Protocols for polling places would be the same. BOE's are required to provide election inspectors and poll clerks at all early voting locations. Voters will be notified by mail of the days, hours and locations of early voting sites.
Jennifer Clark, counsel in the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice said, "The presidential bipartisan voting commission strongly recommended early voting as a solution states can implement now to improve the election system. Through this legislation, New York will join more than half of the states in the country that already enjoy the benefits of this hugely popular voting tool. Early voting can provide more opportunities for more New Yorkers to have their voices heard at the ballot box, while helping to ease the burden of Election Day administration. We urge both the Assembly and the Senate to work together to bring early voting reform to New York."
Russ Haven, NYPIRG legislative counsel said, "21st Century life in New York is incredibly busy and New Yorkers would be more likely to find time to vote if they could cast their votes before Election Day through early voting, which has proven effective in other states. Voting is a right and civic obligation, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be making it easier to participate in our democracy. Properly done, early voting also can alleviate some of the Election Day pressures on boards of elections. NYPIRG applauds the Speaker and the bill's sponsors for their leadership on this issue and moving New York one step closer to boosting voter turnout."