New York state just wrapped up its first early voting experiment and it seemed to work well in the North Country.
Now, the challenge will be to keep getting the word out so more people can take advantage of the process.
Board of Elections officials in Clinton, Essex and Franklin Counties reported smooth sailing in this year’s early voting, which was open from Oct. 25 to Nov. 3.
While there were no technical glitches to speak of, the number of people turning up during the early voting period was not very high.
In Clinton County, the largest population-wise of the three counties in our area, 749 people voted early and five submitted affidavit ballots.
That was the most in the three counties, but still a small number (1.6 percent) when you look at the 46,652 registered voters in the county.
In Essex County, 294 people or 1.2 percent, voted early out of 24,148 registered voters.
Franklin County saw 328 or 1.3 percent, of about 25,000 voters show up early to vote.
Statewide, more than 256,000 voted early for a rate of about 1.9 percent.
We have to believe that as early voting continues, turnouts will grow in the coming years as people get used to the idea.
In 2020, there will be three opportunities for voters to go to the polls early, which should solidify the practice.
Early voting will be open for nine days prior to the presidential primary on April 28, the state and federal primary on June 23 and the general election on Nov. 3.
With 2020 a presidential election year, early voting hopefully will play a key role in bringing more voters to the polls.
While early voting was seen as a success by local officials this election season, there have been complaints of how cost effective it is.
Polling sites in the three counties had to be staffed for nine days, and special equipment purchased to handle the duties.
It is worth the cost for a turnout of less than 2 percent?
We think it is because it is impossible to put a price on an open democracy.
The state paid for the system this time, but we have to wonder at what point will the cost be handed over to localities?
With the initial investment out of the way, hopefully costs can be kept down in the future because creating more opportunities for people to get to the polls is critical if we want to increase voter participation.
Another idea being talked about instead of early voting is just having unlimited absentee ballot voting for any reason.
This would give voters a chance to just slip their ballots in the mail or perhaps vote electronically, saving them a trip to the polls even if it is more convenient with early voting times.
But anyone who has ever witnessed the opening of absentee ballots at a Board of Elections office knows, the method is not pretty.
Ballots are contested or the slightest perceived mistake, i.e. a pen mark nowhere near a ballot box, and representatives from both sides often get into sharp disagreements, and many cases wind up in court.
The process can seriously jeopardize the anonymity of voting, which is not cool.
For those reasons we will be happy to give early voting a try for now and hope that it catches on in a big way next year.