Early Voting, Flexible Party Affiliation Changes And Other Changes Could Help New Yorkers

With both houses of the New York State Legislature being led by the same political party in 2019 as Gov. Cuomo, New Yorkers are being promised swift election reforms in the first hundred days of the new year that will be affecting voters in every county of New York State.

Early Voting: The message from the Albany Democrats is that we could have early voting in 2019 and should absolutely plan on early voting no later than the 2020 presidential cycle election. The Governor’s previously released “Democracy Agenda” proposes early voting to be available for twelve days before a General Election. The proposal would mandate Chautauqua County remain open in Mayville for at least five hours on weekend days, in addition to our normal eight hours on weekdays. We could also expand evening hours before any election, as we are already mandated to be open late the two weeks before a General Election for absentee voting. No additional early voting sites are mandated under the “Democracy Agenda” proposal, but I would hope the County Legislature would consider funding for additional sites in Dunkirk-Fredonia and Jamestown. The Governor’s early voting proposal, as it stands with one site in Mayville, could be covered within the Board of Election’s current budget as long as the state does not add costly extra new procedures as part of early voting. The main obstacles facing election professionals for early voting will be ensuring that the votes are securely cast on an optical scan voting machine as part of the process which would preclude later objections and courts voiding the early voting ballot.

Fusion Voting: The confusing cross endorsements of candidates which allows a very few political operatives to deliver political lines in return for favors or money is not mentioned in the earliest of the 2019 Legislature proposals. However, in addition to ethical considerations, it’s the small party cross endorsements of major party candidates that causes the greatest grief for election ballot makers who will now be under an even earlier timeline for ballot printing and delivery due to early voting. The ballot is currently too big and too complicated. The easiest way to simplify the process is to end the New York State practice of allowing political party cross endorsements.

Consolidation of Primary Dates: Currently, New York State has a Federal Primary date in June and a State Primary date in September. The current partisan Legislature can’t agree on one single Primary date. A Primary date consolidation should be resolved now that there is one party control of Albany, saving local county governments $50 million.

Flexibility to Change Parties: New York has the most restrictive deadline for changing political party affiliations in the country. Citizens are demanding change and change is being promised by the Governor and the Democratic Legislature.

Automatic Voter Registration: The Governor is calling for a streamlining of the process between agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Board of Elections. Getting a driver’s license should allow for automatic voter registration. I would further call on the Governor and State Legislature to lower the age to register to vote to sixteen, thus matching the age a young person applies for a learner’s permit. Allowing young citizens to pre-register for voting is a no brainer initiative to enfranchise not yet-of-age voters.

Same Day Voter Registration: Using the current system of Provisional Affidavit Ballots, the Board of Elections can easily handle the concept of registering to vote on Election Day. The cost to such a proposal would be the after Election Day research to ensure that the voter had not voted elsewhere. Election staffs are already stretched thin and the absolute necessary chasing down new Election Day voter registrations to ensure that the voter hadn’t committed a double vote felony would be time consuming and costly. Technology upgrades covered by the state would allow this voter enhancement.

Voting by Mail: The Governor offered this as part of his preview of election proposals, but did not offer much detail about his vision. Certainly this would further open up voting options to help increase citizen electoral participation.

Election Day Holiday: The Governor is calling for a statewide Election Day holiday to encourage voting and to open up the schools for voting. While Chautauqua County unlike other counties has successfully migrated out of all public schools in the County, opening up the schools for election use would expand our opportunities for better voting spaces particularly in the denser population areas of Dunkirk and Jamestown.

In conclusion, 2019 is promising to be an exciting year for election reforms. Be assured that your elections staff in Mayville is ready and able to implement these election law changes.

Norman P. Green is Chautauqua County’s Democratic Election Commissioner.