Change Warranted In New York Voting

Unaccustomed lines were seen at some South Fork polling places on Election Day, but it would be hard to call the wait times long compared to those elsewhere in New York State. Various problems, especially in some parts of New York City, led to waits that appeared to New York Times reporters to be as long as five hours. Such delays for citizens simply trying to cast their ballots are a powerful argument for change, both within the separate county election boards and in state policy.

New York is not among the states that allow early voting. Considering the complicated lives many New Yorkers lead, even getting to the post office or the grocery store can be a challenge. Adding optional early voting would help increase participation in the political process.

This year, 34 states allowed early voting. That New York does not is in part the result of its antiquated elections infrastructure. Opposition also comes from the Republicans in the State Legislature, who have shown little interest in getting bills to allow early voting onto the floor. According to an advocacy organization pushing early voting, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. supports the idea; Senator Kenneth P. LaValle has not come out in favor of it.

Estimates are that about two million eligible New Yorkers are not registered to vote. And among those able to vote, New York ranked nearly last in turnout in the 2012 and 2014 elections. Early voting could help change that, especially in urban areas, where long commutes can make finding time to visit the polls on a workday and still meet family and personal obligations all but impossible.

Another matter that early voting might reverse is the tone-deaf preference among local governments and some school districts to take the day off. The message sent by staying away from work to golf, shop, or just putter around the house does not encourage voting, particularly by parents of schoolchildren. Giving voters the chance to vote early might help keep municipal and school district staff members on the job instead of enjoying a vacation day at the public’s expense.

In the post-Trump victory period there has also been much talk about the Electoral College and whether this centuries-old relic should be scrapped. Not since Ronald Reagan in 1984 have New York’s Republican voters been on the winning side of a presidential race. This means that the will of millions of state voters who favored Donald Trump or Mitt Romney or John McCain mattered not a whit in the overall results in their respective years.

In May, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill that committed New York to award its electoral votes to the candidate who received the national majority. If and when enough states join the National Popular Vote Compact, as it is called, all New York voters, regardless of party, would once again have a voice in choosing a president. That, and allowing early voting, would go a long way to assure the Empire State matters when it matters most.