Saturday marked the first day of early voting in New York state, and most people seem to agree, voting has just become a lot more convenient.
Clifton Park resident Laurie Abajian, who works for state government in Albany, said normally voting on an election Tuesday can be a chore, after working until 5 p.m. and then sitting in traffic for an hour before getting home, trying to eat dinner and run to the polls before closing. She said she works part time at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library, and voting on Saturday was easy.
"I just took 15 minutes during my lunch break and went and voted. It was great," she said.
New York state enacted early voting earlier this year after the Democratic majority in the state Senate passed the reform proposal, which had long been opposed by the former Republican majority. The aim of the law is to increase turnout by providing access to voting for 10 days before election day, which this year is Nov. 5.
The votes cast during early voting will not be counted until election day.
Early voting was open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and will open again from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday and next weekend on Saturday and Sunday. During the week early voting will be open from noon to 8 p.m. Monday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday; noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.
Local election commissioners reported the process went smoothly Saturday. Here were the total number of votes cast in local counties:
• Albany County 652 votes
• Schenectady County 433 votes, with 4 affidavit votes
• Saratoga County 423 votes
• Fulton County 43 votes, with 1 affidavit vote
• Montgomery County 31 votes
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, voted at the Montgomery County Board of Elections. He said he's a strong supporter of early voting, which he believes will help voters with difficult work schedules and other hindrances to find time to get to the polls. Tonko, a veteran political campaigner for decades, said he expects early voting will change the way campaigns operate.
"I think it allows campaign teams to understand how their messages are working," Tonko said. "Usually with the science of campaigning you have a field of people you feel have committed to you, and you can have people share with you who [among your supporters] has voted and that gives you a good sense of whether or not your base is coming out."
Dale "Hank" McGrath, a Libertarian Party candidate for Gloversville mayor, said he voted Saturday, and he intends to encourage his supporters to take advantage of the extended time period to vote. He said even though Gloversville has about 13,800 residents, only about 3,000 people vote in most mayoral elections, a number he hopes will increase.
"It helped me and my fiancee get our voting out of the way," he said. "It is advantageous, my fiancee has kids in school and she has to work, so this gave her the time to vote."
One criticism McGrath had of Fulton County's early voting setup is that it is only available at one location, the Fulton County Board of Elections on Route 29.
"The only weakness I saw is that it isn't in the inner city, where people are impoverished, and may not have the transportation to go vote," he said.
Unlike on election day, early voting is not held in every election precinct, but instead in centralized locations. In Schenectady County early voting was held at the Karen B. Johnson Library on Clinton Street in Schenectady; the Niskayuna Town Hall; the Glenville Senior Center on Worden Road; at the ViaPort Rotterdam Mall.
In Saratoga County early voting was held at the polling sites at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library in Moe Road in Clifton Park; at the Board of Elections office on West High Street in Ballston Spa; and at Gavin Park in Wilton. Fulton and Montgomery counties only held voting at their respective county Board of Elections offices.
College students Trevor Carroll, of Niskayuna, and Gabrielle Schaffer, of Glenville, voted together at Niskayuna Town Hall.
Schaffer, an undergraduate studying biology at SUNY Binghamton, said normally she'd be at school during the election, so the opportunity to vote Saturday made things easier.
"I was home for this weekend, so it just made more sense to vote while I'm home," she said.
Voting in Albany, Schenectady and Saratoga counties, involved a new electronic polling system.
Alan Pearlman, a voting machine technician the Schenectady County Board of Elections, helped make sure the new electronic voting poll books provided in counties with over 50,000 residents worked smoothly Saturday.
He explained the new system enables voters to cast ballots in a centralized location. He said voters provide poll workers with their home address at the early polling place, poll workers then accesses a digitized version of the voter's signature taken from the paper poll books in the voter's home election districts and ask them to sign an iPad programmed to record votes. The iPad then instructs a printer via WiFi to print the ballot, which includes all races the voter is eligible to cast a vote in, from the voter's home district. Voters then mark the paper ballot as they would during a regular election day.
Pearlman said after voters sign the electronic poll book, an iPad tablet using a stylus writing device, a Republican Party and a Democratic Party poll worker must both look at the digital signatures, and then initial voters' signatures on the digital screen before voters are allowed to cast ballots. If either poll worker rejects a signature, the voter will be provided with an affidavit ballot, which will allow recording of the vote and legally challenge being denied a standard ballot.
"The tablets and printers were just recently selected, so this is the acid test where we're really making sure they're working," Pearlman said. "We've only had one problem. We had a communication glitch between the tablet and a printer, so we had to restart the system, which caused a five-minute delay. So, we're learning the quickest way to do that. We don't want to inconvenience the voter in any way, a five-minute delay is way too much, but we only experienced that once."
The state budget included $14.7 million for creating electronic poll books, which are intended to protect the integrity of the system. There is also $10 million to cover costs for the counties of training staff and then staffing early polling sites. So, county officials believe their additional costs will be covered, at least for this year.
Counties with less than 50,000 residents were not required to purchase the electronic poll books. Montgomery County Republican Election Commissioner Terrance Smith said Montgomery County will likely purchase the electronic poll book equipment in the future, but they've decided to wait and observe how different vendors providing the equipment perform during the 2019 election.
"In fact I was just talking to one of the Fulton County election commissioners and we were saying we may visit some of the neighboring election boards to see how the electronic poll books are working out for them," Smith said. "So, the electronic poll book is a security thing. They are mostly for bigger counties with multiple poll sites, so people can't go from one poll spot to another. Once the signature is in, the iPad will communicate with all of the others."
Judith Weiner, of Malta, said she just recently moved to New York from Massachusetts, which has had early voting for several years.
"I couldn't believe New York state didn't have it when I got here," she said.
Weiner said in Massachusetts she had only used paper poll books for early voting. But she had no problems using the electronic signature system. She said she and the rest of her family came together to vote on Saturday.
"I'm very, very happy New York has done this, now if you can just get rid of the orange license plates everything will be great," she said.