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Advocates push for early voting in New York State

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo


At a hearing held by the New York State Assembly on expanded voting, advocates argued that New York needs to join more than half of the other states who offer some kind of extended voting.

New York state has among the lowest voter turn out rate in the country, ranking 46th out of 50th in the 2014 statewide elections, which included the race for governor.

Thirty-three states offer some form of expanded voting hours or early voting with some giving voters a chance to choose their candidates one month before the first Tuesday in November.  

New York State Bar Association’s John Nonna, testifying before the Assembly Elections Committee hearing, said it’s time that New York caught up.

“New York has not kept pace with the rest of the country,” Nonna said.

He said early voting is popular in the other states and he expects it would be welcomed by voters in New York.

The bar association recommends that voting begin one week before Election Day, a smaller amount of time than in most states that have early voting. But, he said the weekend before Election Day would be crucial to allow working people the time to cast their ballot and would boost turn out.

Nonna also recommends registering young people to vote before they are old enough to be eligible, by going into high schools and signing up 16 and 17 year olds.

“New Yorkers aged 18-24 have some of the lowest rate of registration in the state,” said Nonna, who said early registration has been shown to increase the numbers of young people voting in other states and nations.

Susan Lerner, with the government reform group Common Cause New York, also testified at the hearing. She said in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2013 State of the State message, he called for expanded voting. She said now his administration needs to come up with funds to carry it out because local governments can’t afford to do it on their own.

“He needs to put some resources behind it,” Lerner said.

Assembly Democrats have passed a one-house bill to allow early voting in New York, but it has never been approved in the New York State Senate. Barbara Bartoletti, with the League of Women Voters, said many politicians believe it’s safer for their chances to be reelected under the present system when only a small number of their core supporters come to the polls.

“They don’t want the general population, they just want their voters to come out,” Bartoletti said. “So, they don’t make it easy for everybody to vote.”

New York does offer an opportunity to register to vote at Department of Motor Vehicle offices. Common Cause recommends combining the voter registration with the driver’s license applications, as states including Oregon and California have done, to make it even easier to register to vote.

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.