April 30, 2013

Assembly to Pass Early Voting Legislation
Measure Would Increase Access for Voters

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (at podium) was joined by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and members of the Assembly Majority to announce legislation that will increase voter participation by establishing early voting for primary, special and general elections. Silver said early voting is available in 32 states, and according to a statewide Siena Poll taken earlier in the year, it has significant support among voters. (From left) Attorney General Schneiderman and Election Law Committee Chair Michael Cusick.

In order to encourage greater voter participation, shorten waits and lines at polling places, and expand voting access for all New Yorkers, Speaker Sheldon Silver and Chair of the Election Law Committee Michael Cusick today joined with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to announce the Assembly's intention to pass legislation (A.689-A) instituting early voting in New York State.

"Democracy thrives when as many citizens as possible participate in the electoral process. Yet New Yorkers can only vote for a candidate or a ballot proposition during a set number of hours on a single day. For the health and vitality of our Democracy, our election law must be changed," said Silver. "We believe all New Yorkers, regardless of their personal or professional time commitments, should be able to vote in each and every election. Early voting will make voting easier, more convenient and more accessible in our state."

The measure, which is expected to pass the Assembly today, would institute early voting for all General, Primary, and Special elections in New York. Under the provisions of this legislation, a 15-day early voting period for general elections and an eight day early voting period for primary and special elections would be established.

"In recent years, we have seen increasingly aggressive efforts to make it harder for millions of Americans to vote. Here in New York we are pushing back," said Schneiderman. "Early voting will reduce barriers to participation that particularly impact working people, and ensure that all New Yorkers have an opportunity to participate in our democratic process. The time has come for New York to join the dozens of states around country that allow early voting."

"Currently, 32 other states along with the District of Columbia have some form of early voting in place. If you look at the history of low voter turnout and, certainly, the problems caused by Superstorm Sandy during this past Election Day, it only makes sense to institute early voting. This legislation will make it more convenient for workers with long commutes as well as seniors. It will also alleviate confusion and strain at the polls on Election Day evidenced by the fact that almost 30 percent of voters, nationally, chose to utilize early voting in presidential elections," said Cusick.

Voter participation in November 2012 was approximately 59.5 percent in New York. This is among the lowest in the nation. It is lower than the 64.2 percent turnout rate for the 2008 general election.

According to the US Census Bureau, of registered non-voters, 18 percent reported that they did not vote because they were too busy or because of conflicting work or school schedules. An additional 15 percent reported they did not vote because of an illness, disability or family emergency.

Under the bill, each local Board of Elections (BOE) must designate at least four polling places for voters to cast an early ballot, in addition to a site at the local BOE, for a total of at least five polling places. The bill allows the BOE the flexibility to add additional early voting sites as needed. The sites must be geographically located to provide voters equal access.

Silver outlined the provisions of the Assembly's early voting bill for reporters attending the Capitol news conference, pointing out that under the Assembly bill voters could cast their ballots in a 15 day period before a general election and eight days before a primary or special election.
Early voting polls would be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each week day and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday during the early voting period. Ballots cast during the early voting period will be counted at the close of the polls on Election Day and included in the election night tally.

Early voting would be conducted in the same manner as takes place on Election Day. Protocols for polling places would be the same. BOE's are required to provide election inspectors and poll clerks at all early voting locations. Voters will be notified by mail of the days, hours and locations of early voting sites.

Dick Dadey, executive director for Citizens Union said "It is good to see the Assembly poised to pass Speaker Silver's early voting legislation that will reform our election process by making voting more accessible to New Yorkers. This marks the first time any house in the New York State legislature has passed early voting, a reform already implemented in more than 30 other states, which is critical to modernizing our elections. Early voting will make it more convenient for voters to cast their ballot and encourage participation in our democracy which is sorely needed since New York State ranks 48th among states in voter turnout."

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY said, "Early voting is a proven success. More than half the country has some form of early voting, and there's no reason New Yorkers can't have the same expanded access to their polling place. It's a safe, efficient, and sensible solution to the much reported chaos which can occur on Election Day. The need is even more apparent after Hurricane Sandy when the Board of Elections in the affected counties scrambled to assist thousands of displaced voters, many of whom were not able to execute their constitutional right to vote. New Yorkers faced long lines lasting up to several hours at many poll sites across the state on Election Day, deterring voters from exercising their right to vote. In Maryland, many voters took advantage of early voting in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy and voted before the storm hit. New Yorkers should have the same flexibility. We praise Speaker Silver for taking steps to make voting more convenient for all New Yorkers and urge the Senate to follow suit. Efficient, secure, reliable, and open elections should be a top priority for all of our government officials."

Diana Kasdan, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice said, "After Hurricane Sandy strained voters and poll workers last November, we all recognize that change to our election system is vital. Fortunately, one part of the solution, early voting, has a proven track record. It is already available in more than half the country, hugely popular, and benefits election officials and voters alike. New Yorkers deserve the same. Early voting can help ease the burdens of Election Day administration and give more New Yorkers more opportunities to make their voices heard at the ballot box. We urge both the Assembly and the Senate to work together to bring early voting reform to New York."

Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the New York State League of Women Voters said, "The League applauds Speaker Silver and the Assembly for passage of this early voting legislation. This will encourage better voter participation. And we look forward to making this proposal law."