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Assembly, attorney general, press for early voting

Columbia City Blog
via Flickr

The state’s attorney general and Assembly speaker have proposed an early voting system for New York that they say can improve voter participation and democracy.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman teamed up to press for New York to join 32 other states and allow early voting.  

Speaker Silver says the state has a dismal record for voter  participation, ranking near the lowest in the nation. He says reasons for the failure to vote range from disruption after last fall’s Superstorm Sandy, to conflicting work or school schedules. He says an extended period of time to vote could help fix that.

“Our legislation would enable New Yorkers to cast their ballots on any day during a 15 day period before a general election,” said Silver, who said primary voting would be extended to eight days.

 The polls would be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman supports the measure.

“As far as I’m concerned, any law or regulation or rule that makes it easier for eligible voters to register and vote is a good law or regulation or rule,” said Schneiderman, who called laws that hinder that “un-American.”

"I think that's wrong"

Some local officials have expressed concerns about additional costs if voting is extended. Silver counters there would be fewer sites during extended voting, which should help hold down expenses.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos says he’s not in favor of early voting, saying it could be problematic in certain cases. He says a voter could cast a ballot for a candidate two weeks before the election, and then the candidate could be arrested a week later. The voter would have no opportunity to change his or her vote, he argues.    

“I think that’s wrong,” said Skelos. “Election cycles should play out to the date of the election.”  

Skelos says those that can’t make it to the polls for a legitimate reason, already have an option in absentee voting.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also said that he supports early voting but has not released a specific proposal.

The governor did send out a press release that includes several related ideas. One would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, in an attempt to boost participation at the ballot among young people when they do turn 18. It would also expand access to the ballot for candidates by reducing the number of signatures required, and would ease rules for validating affidavit ballots.

The Governor's proposed reforms also include simplifying New York’s traditionally confusing ballot layout, to make it easier for voters to understand.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.