Early Voting Needed In New York

As a 14-year professional at the Chautauqua County Board of Elections, I feel compelled to go on record strongly supporting New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s proposal for early voting in New York State for future November general elections. Early voting is the rule in 32 of the 50 U.S. states.

In our state, general election polling hours run from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and primary elections in all Western New York counties except Erie County run from noon to 9 p.m. Silver’s proposal would require Chautauqua County to establish early voting 14 days before a general election and seven days before a primary or special election. Counties would have to establish at least five poll sites for early voting and have them open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., including Saturdays and Sundays.

While Chautauqua County this year turned out 67 percent of its eligible presidential year voters compared with New York state’s anemic 46 percent total, I still strongly support any idea that will increase access to the ballot in our county. Early voting results would be counted after the close of the polls on Election Day, so there’s no way for early voting results to influence the voting that takes place on Election Day.

I do however oppose a concept of early voting for primary elections that are the tool of the individual political parties to determine party nominees for the general election ballot and do support early voting for special elections that have historically low voter turnout.

The cost to open up five poll sites for a general election would be the key issue we at the Board of Elections would need to face in our neverending effort to provide cost effective elections for the voters of our county.

The total number of hours we would need to staff five poll sites for Silver’s general election proposal would be 770 hours. The minimum wage for poll site workers is $8 per hour, and this would be a personnel cost total of $6,160 per election. Add to that the cost of early voting envelopes, ballots needing to be printed for all 124 election districts, delivery of supplies, management and other expenses and the total would be about $10,000 for a Chautauqua County general election.

I would propose that this new early voting cost could easily be covered by certain changes in the election law that have been advanced and advocated by the New York state Election Commissioners Association. First and foremost would be to give the board of elections the power to increase election districts in the size of voters to take full advantage of the change in technology that occurred when NYS transitioned to optical scan voting. Also, the board of elections needs sole management discretion in staffing levels at each poll site and an election law change is needed to accomplish this also. Further, this seems to be the perfect time to end the confusing system of fusion voting that is unique to New York and seven other states, that allows candidates for public office to run on multiple political party lines. Ending fusion voting would allow for a cleaner ballot, larger font on the ballots and a savings in election costs.

Election Commissioner Norman P. Green is the Democratic election commissioner for Chautauqua County.