Cuomo pushes early voting

ALBANY, NY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has advocated for early voting in the past, but this is the first time he’s suggeesting spending state money for it.  In an amendment to his proposed budget, Cuomo on February 12 added $7 million to the Fiscal Year 2019 Executive Budget to pay for early voting in every county in New York.

New York is one of only 13 states that presently don’t allow for early voting.  Cuomo’s plan would mandate that at least one polling place for every 50,000 residents be open to accept votes for 12 days in advance of election days. 

In Sullivan County with a population of about 76,000 residents that would mean two polling places in the county.   The polls would have to be open for eight hours during weekdays and five hours on weekends.  Cuomo’s proposal also allows for same-day voter registration.

In announcing the plan Cuomo said, “Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and no one should have to choose between exercising their sacred right to vote and going to work, school or personal commitments. By offering early voting across the state, we are further breaking down barriers to democracy and helping to ensure that all New Yorkers’ voices are heard.”

  The push for early voting and other voter reforms in the state is not new.  In 2016 a package of reforms that included early voting, same day registration and no-excuse absentee voting was passed by the State Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, but was not passed by the Senate which is controlled by Republicans.  Bringing more people into the voting process is generally thought to benefit Democrats at the expense of Republicans.

There will also be likely resistance from many county officials because the money coming to pay for the early voting in Cuomo’s plan would come from the counties, where the voting operations are centered.  This aspect of the plan prompted Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, to declare Cuomo’s proposal another “unfunded mandate” with officials in Albany demanding that counties provide a service without paying for it. 

Still, several good-government and other advocacy groups have lauded Cuomo’s proposal.  Chisun Lee, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said “For years, the state has lagged behind most of the country on this issue and forced people on Election Day to choose between participating in their democracy and other crucial obligations, such as work or child care. Early voting eases that burden. We urge elected leaders in Albany to pass the governor’s early voting proposal, for which he is now providing funding. With this reform in place, more New Yorkers will be able to exercise their most fundamental right in our democracy.”

The decision to adopt the plan or not should be made by the time the new budget is passed which is scheduled for April 1.


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