EDITORIAL: Start preparing now for election issues

To ensure a fair and accurate election, state will have to anticipate and address mail-in voting issues.
First early elections at Clifton Park- Halfmoon Public Library in Clifton Park on Saturday, October 26, 2019.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
First early elections at Clifton Park- Halfmoon Public Library in Clifton Park on Saturday, October 26, 2019.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Start preparing now for voting issues

It turns out people will actually vote if you make it really, really easy for them.

Who knew? Oh yeah, pretty much everybody.

And judging by how enthusiastically voters participated in last week’s all-mail school elections, they seem to really like voting without the inconvenience of leaving their homes.

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With other states already seeing spikes in coronavirus cases due to the reopening of their economies, and with many health officials predicting a double health whammy in the fall when the covid pandemic meets the annual flu season, it’s going to be more imperative from a safety standpoint that New York have a reliable and trustworthy voting system in place for people who don’t want to risk voting in person in the presidential election.

The next test of the move toward early voting and mail-in voting is taking place now with the statewide Democratic presidential primary coming up on Tuesday.

In about half the counties in the state, the primary ballot also includes races for state Legislature, Congress and the sporadic local seat.

Completed ballots must be postmarked or dropped off at the local Board of Elections by Tuesday. A week of early voting will continue through Sunday in some places.

But even if both the school elections and primaries end up going smoothly, New York must be prepared for the upcoming presidential race, an event every four years that always results in a much bigger-than-usual turnout and which could really go through the roof this year with President Trump seeking re-election.

One of the major concerns nationwide is whether the Postal Service can handle a large influx of mail in a timely fashion should states move to no-excuse absentee balloting, which will put millions of ballots in the mail in a short period of time.

Another problem that could arise is if people suddenly flood boards of elections with requests for ballots. There is a limited amount of time for ballots to be prepared, printed and mailed, so the state has to anticipate and be ready for that issue.

Some school districts saw this problem when printing companies that had been closed down by covid crisis couldn’t keep up with the sudden demand for ballots and the accompanying envelopes.

The state is going to have to make sure it can not only print enough ballots, but give the Postal Service enough time to deliver them and give voters enough time to fill them out and mail them back. That’s a logistical issue that must be addressed now, before it becomes time for the ballots to actually be sent out. The earlier the state gets the ballots out, the easier it will be to process them when it comes time for voters to return them.

That should be helped by the fact that the primary elections that determine the candidates for the general election are taking place much earlier in the year, in June, instead of the usual time in mid-September.

The state will also have to ensure there are mechanisms in place to protect against voter fraud and against allegations of fraud and inaccurate results that could tie up election outcomes in court.

While study after study shows that voter fraud in mail-in elections is extremely rare — about 143 confirmed cases of fraud in 250 million votes cast nationally over the past two decades — there could be legitimate arguments for concern if counting machines don’t work, if ballots get lost or delayed in the mail, or if voters don’t get their ballots in time to vote.

The state also will have to ensure the integrity of in-person voting.

 

Despite the conveniences of mail-in voting, many people still will go to the polls in person.

The state doesn’t want a repeat of what happened in Georgia recently, when a combination of fewer polling places and a shortage of poll workers due to the coronavirus crisis created long lines at the ballot box and headaches for voters.

Establishing a sufficient number of polling places, with enough people to staff them and enough people to serve as backups should the regular workers get sick, is going to be essential — and difficult.

People have proven that if it’s convenient for them to vote, they will be more likely to do so.

The more people who participate in our elections, the more representative the outcome of those elections are of the true desires of the people.

It’s essential that the citizens be able to trust the process and the outcome.

That means the state has to anticipate all potential problems and formulate plans for preventing them.

There’s no time like the present to get ready.

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