By JOE LoTEMPLIO Press-Republican
---- — PLATTSBURGH — While local officials agree that offering early voting has its merits, they worry that it would be just another unfunded state mandate.
“This is another example of a good idea gone wrong,” Clinton County Legislator Harry McManus (D-Area 1, Champlain) said.
“This could be a slippery slope.”
The state is considering offering early voting for two weeks before the general elections and eight days before primary and special elections.
The polls would be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each weekday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday during the early-voting period.
Ballots cast during early voting would be counted at the close of the polls on Election Day and included in the election-night count.
The idea behind the offering is to increase voter participation.
According to a news release from New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, voter participation in November 2012 was about 59.5 percent in New York, which was among the lowest in the nation.
In the 2008 election, also a presidential election year, the turnout rate in the state was 64.2 percent.
Schneiderman’s release said that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18 percent of registered non-voters said they did not turn out to cast their ballot because they were too busy or because of conflicting work or school schedules.
Also, 15 percent said they did not vote because of an illness, disability or family emergency, release said.
The State Assembly approved a bill last week that calls for, starting in 2014, each county board of elections to designate at least four polling places for voters to cast early ballots, as well as the main office, for a total of five polling places.
The sites would be spread out across the county to allow equal access to all.
McManus said staffing the polling sites for up to two weeks each day, as well as training staffers, would be costly.
“The idea has some merit, but there is no money coming with this,” he said.
Clinton County Board of Elections Commissioners Greg Campbell (Republican) and Susan Castine (Democrat) say they would love to offer early voting, but the proposed plan has its challenges.
“We have a hard time finding enough people to work at the polls for one day,” Campbell said. “How are we going to find enough for two weeks?”
Each poll worker receives $150 per day for a general election and $110 per day for a primary or special election. Four workers are usually scheduled at each site.
It costs $25 to train each worker, and the county would have to pay to transport the voting machines and bring the paper ballots back to the main office at the end of each day.
Compounding matters, Castine said, would be providing the correct ballots for local races at the four sites around the county.
“What if somebody lives in Peru and works in Champlain and wants to vote while he is in Champlain at lunch hour? We would have to have Peru ballots at the site in Champlain, but how are we going to know who is going to vote where?” she said.
It could also be difficult keeping track of who voted and at what site to prevent people from stepping into the booth more than once, she said.
Also, the staff at the Board of Elections office would have to work overtime during the early voting period to be on hand to collect ballots at the end of each day.
“We would have people here until after 9 p.m. each night,” Campbell said.
Both Campbell and Castine said they have heard nothing about any funding from the state that would be available to pay for early voting.
McManus said the cost, which could be up to $60,000 for the county, would be borne by the county or the towns or a combination thereof.
“We would have to figure something out, but these towns have not budgeted for something like this,” he said.
“It’s just another cost to deal with.”
In Franklin County, Legislature Chairman Billy Jones (D-District 2, Chateaugay) said the early-voting plan the state is considering might help larger cities but does not apply to rural counties.
“In counties like ours, we might have some of these polling places open all day for two weeks, and some days they might get one or two people coming in — or maybe nobody,” he said.
“I’m all for getting people to vote, but this is kind of ridiculous, and the county and taxpayers are going to end up paying for it.”
‘USE ABSENTEE BALLOTS’
Campbell and Castine said that early voting can be offered without the cost or hassle of keeping poll sites open for two weeks by simply tweaking the absentee-ballot process.
Voters using them are required to sign them swearing that they are away from home and cannot vote in person.
You are not supposed to use absentee ballots otherwise, but some voters do.
Castine said if the state allowed voters to fill out an absentee ballot whether they are in town or not, they could have up to 30 days before Election Day to cast their ballot.
“If people really care about voting, they will find a way,” she said.
NAY FROM DUPREY
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) voted against early voting.
“Although I can agree with providing better access for voting, I will not support this unfunded mandate on our county governments and local taxpayers,” she said.
There has yet to be a similar bill offered in the Senate.
Email Joe LoTemplio:firstname.lastname@example.org