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Money for early voting added to state budget

Money for early voting added to state budget

Advocates and counties had criticized lack of funding
Money for early voting added to state budget
Photographer: Shutterstock

CAPITOL — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed $7 million in funding for early voting in New York state after initially planning to leave the cost of implementing early voting to counties.

County officials and voting advocates have complained that the initiative Cuomo proposed in his executive budget in January lacked funding, fearing the cost would be a new unfunded mandate from the state.

Cuomo announced the proposed funding on Monday, as a 30-day amendment to the executive budget he proposed last month. The proposal would allow people to start voting 12 days before Election Day, beginning in 2019.

The change would encourage voting, Cuomo said, by giving people more time to vote and reducing lines at polling places on Election Day.

Cuomo has proposed legislation that would require every county to have at least one polling place open early and for larger counties to have one polling place for every 50,000 registered voters. The measure also calls for early polling hours to be scheduled on both weekdays and weekends. County board of elections would determine where the polling places would be.

Cuomo's original budget proposal included legislation for early voting, but assumed that counties would pick up the cost, which was then estimated at $6.4 million. Voting rights advocated urged that the state assume the funding burden, which they estimated at around $100,000 per county.

The $7 million figure is what the advocacy group Citizens Union estimates it would cost to implement a system that would include electronic poll books for tracking who is voting.

"I think it's wonderful," said William Fruci, Saratoga County's Democratic elections commissioner. "I think it's great he came up wth some money for early voting."

The League of Women Voters of New York State is pleased that Cuomo now wants to provide funding, policy director Jennifer Wilson said.

New York is one of just 13 states where early voting isn't available, other than necessary absentee ballots.

"New York State has had an abysmal rate of voter turnout and participation for far too long," Wilson said. "With these reforms, voters will be able to vote at a time when it is most convenient for them."

Any bill, however, would require approval from the state Legislature, including the Republican-controlled state Senate.

In the Senate, a separate bill sponsored by Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, would authorize early voting, but require only that the county Board of Election office in each county be open. Her bill would require a polling place to be open for 14 days before a general, special or primary election. She argues that the cost wouldn't be great, because boards of election officers are generally already open during the two weeks before Election Day.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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