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Here's Why New York Doesn't Have Early Voting

By Nicole Levy | November 8, 2016 2:16pm | Updated on November 9, 2016 2:41pm

New Yorkers faced long, crawling lines at their local polling sites Tuesday morning, some waiting more than an hour to cast their ballot in the 2016 presidential election.

They can blame, at least in part, the one-day period New York State allots for voting. 

Unlike citizens in 34 other states across America, residents here can only vote ahead of time — by absentee ballot — if they can say their profession, business, studies, travel, illness or disability will prevent them from getting to the polls on Election Day.  

So why are New Yorkers excluded from the process which allows more than 46 million people who cast their ballot in the 2016 presidential election to do so before Tuesday?

Only new legislation can make early voting a reality in New York, state Board of Elections spokesman Thomas Connolly said in an email. 

Legal reforms are the means by which grassroots advocacy groups and state politicians aim to modernize "antiquated" election laws, as Matthew Sollars, a spokesman for the voting reform coalition Vote Better NY, described them.

"We think early voting is a great idea and one that is long, long overdue for adoption in Albany," Sollars said.

Early voting not only gives voters the flexibility to visit their polling site at their convenience, but relieves stress on overtaxed poll workers — all of which means shorter lines on Election Day. 

"It generally just makes the experience of participating in democracy more manageable for everybody," said Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, a sponsor of the three-pronged ballot reform package that Vote Better NY brought before Albany lawmakers in May. 

With 6,500 signatures, the group's petition called for three bills that would not only introduce a two-week voting period "to ease long lines on Election Day and give voters flexibility as they juggle work and family obligations," but modify ballots to make them more comprehensible and streamline the voter registration process.

The bills passed the Democrat-controlled State Assembly in June, but they remain in committee in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have expressed support for the reforms, Kavanagh said, the Senate's Republican majority is making no effort to advance them.

“Republicans, whether they’re New York Republicans or Arizona Republicans, believe that as you expand the electorate, you bring in more Democratic voters," according to Doug Muzzio, a professor of political science at Baruch College's Marxe School of Public and International Affairs.

"And to prevent this from occurring, they don’t make voting easy."

A request for comment from Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, was not returned. 

The immediate future of New York's ballot reforms could hinge on the outcome of Tuesday's state elections, as Republicans and Democrats fight for control of the Senate

If at least one chamber seat changes hands from a Republican to a Democrat, the breakaway group of Senate Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference may switch their allegiance from right to left, Muzzio said.

"We expect that it will be easier to reform these [voting] laws if the Democrats take the majority," said Kavanagh, who pledged continued support to his sponsored legislation no matter Tuesday's outcome. 

"If New Yorkers want to see these changes, they need to vote for candidates who support them," said Vote Better NY spokesman Sollars, whose organization's website lists the state politicians that support its legislation

"Tuesday would be a good time to start.”

In the long run, voting reform should ultimately be a bipartisan issue, Kavanagh said.

"Both Republican and Democrats should be able to agree that allowing everyone to vote is the most basic thing we ought to do in a democracy."