Foss: Early voting a welcome reform

Dan Perrin of Niskayuna electronically signs in on the first day of early voting in New York state.
Dan Perrin of Niskayuna electronically signs in on the first day of early voting in New York state.

I’ve always supported early voting, and I was happy to see the state finally permit New Yorkers to vote before Election Day.

What I was less sure of was how voters would respond to this long-overdue voting reform. 

Did they know what it was? Did they understand how it worked? If they did know what it was and understand how it worked, would they take advantage of it?

Early voting ended on Sunday, and the answer to all three questions appears to be a resounding yes.

Statewide, turnout was 1.9 percent over the nine-day early voting period, which might not seem all that impressive. 

But when you dig into the data released by the state Board of Elections, early voting starts to look a lot more robust. 

Seventy-six percent of the 256,251 voters who cast their ballots early reside outside of New York City, and the county-by-county numbers suggest that turnout was stronger upstate. 

In Schenectady County, 2991 people voted early. In Saratoga County, 3,030 

In Fulton County, 317 voted early, 253 voted early in Montgomery County and 418 voted early in Schoharie County. Over 5,300 people voted early in Albany County.

These numbers are not huge, but they’re much bigger than I expected — a positive sign for those of us who worried that approximately zero people would choose to vote early.

And while we don’t know how many people will vote today, past election results suggest that ballots cast early will likely comprise a small but significant percentage of the final vote total. 

For instance: If turnout in Schenectady County matches the turnout in the local election of 2017, when 34,749 people voted, approximately 8 percent of ballots will have been cast early. 

That’s pretty good, especially when you consider that this year is New York’s first year of early voting. And it’s also a local election year, when turnout typically ranges from dismal to “meh.” 

A better test of the popularity of early voting will be the 2020 presidential election, when turnout and interest are high. 

That said, this year’s taste of early voting indicates that voters were eager to take advantage of this new reform, which bodes will for the future. 

Advocates for voting reform have long argued that making it easier and more convenient to vote will boost turnout. 

If early voting succeeds in getting more New Yorkers to exercise their right to vote, it will be a great success — a welcome change to a system sorely in need of it.  

I didn’t vote early. 

But I heard good reports from those who did, and I might do it in the future. 

If nothing else, I like having the option. 

And I suspect most voters agree. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.      




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