EDITORIAL: County voting centers could help boost turnout, accessibility

A building and sign reading Vote Here

Voting is generally pretty easy and convenient, especially if the polling locations are centrally located and near where you live, and if you have transportation to get there.

But that option isn’t always available to everyone, especially in rural areas and for people who might not be able to drive there, like older and poorer voters and college students.

That’s one of the reasons the state has been working to expand the use of mail-in ballots — so people who can’t get to the polls can still vote easily.

But some people don’t like or trust mail-in ballots. Some want to wait until the very last minute, when they have all the information on the candidates or an issue, before casting a vote. Some people just feel more comfortable and secure going to a physical place in person to vote.

The state has an obligation to accommodate the voting needs of as many people as possible to ensure the most complete access to the polls.

Two bills pending in the Legislature would help close the voting gap.

One, S5537, would allow counties to establish countywide polling places for primary and general elections. The other, S242, would allow counties the option to establish two or more locations for portable polling places for early voting. Both bills are sponsored by Syracuse state Sen. Rachel May.

Right now, eligible voters are assigned a specific polling place based on where they live.

These bills would allow counties to place voting centers in one or more locations that would be open to all county voters in order to make in-person voting convenient to more voters.

In other states, these voting centers have increased turnout, made voting more efficient and accessible, and reduced the number of ballots rejected due to people voting in the wrong place.

They also have demonstrated pitfalls that the New York legislation would have to address.

For instance, some might object to a proposed county location based on party politics. A county voting center situated at a liberal arts college or in a minority neighborhood might be seen as favoring Democrats. A voting center at another location where people tend to vote Republican might draw similar complaints.

Representatives from both parties should have a say in selecting the county location, and both county elections commissioners, under Election Law, must agree.

Another issue is with multiple voting centers is that it could confuse voters about where they’re eligible to vote.

Then there’s the cost of setting up and staffing another location, as the legislation prohibits counties from reducing existing voting locations to accommodate the countywide locations.

The final issue, which is included in the Senate bill and which must remain in the final version, is that it must be voluntary. Counties that don’t want to set up the centers shouldn’t have to, especially if the state isn’t contributing to offset the expense.

But those are issues that can be worked out by reasonable people whose goal is to serve all voters by making voting easier and more convenient.

Lawmakers should consider both these bills and give voters another option for exercising their right to vote.

Clarification: An earlier version of the editorial did not make it clear that bills require that the establishment of the new voting locations be voluntary. Also, both elections commissioners must agree, under existing Election Law, with the changes.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion, Opinion

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