By Steve Ettlinger. Ettlinger is a writer and sculptor who is active in various local civic groups, and a 34-year resident of Brooklyn. Via Common Cause he is a member of LetNYVote.org.
Thirty-seven states allow early voting, but not our beloved New York. That’s just plain crazy. And we’re supposed to be so progressive. In fact, we’re the ONLY state that won’t allow flexibility to change your party affiliation. You read that right: 49 states allow you change your party close to election day; New Yorkers currently need more than 6 months, meaning one has to change parties, if one wants, before the candidates might even be known. But first, let’s work for at least one reform item: early voting. This should be easy.
I recently joined a lively group that traveled to Albany to press the point that we need to facilitate early voting here. Gov. Cuomo even put it into his budget, but, ahem, without any money to make it work. Someone needs to pay those poll workers and truckers and to help keep the lights on when folks vote for, say, two weeks or even 12 days before the big election day. Now, in a small town upstate, where voters simply stop by city hall, that might not cost much. But in big cities, polls need to be managed, staffed, and voting machines and peripheral expenses need to be covered. And in all areas, voting locations can be set up in new places, such as at schools, shopping malls, or libraries (or elsewhere) simply to encourage the largest possible voter participation. What could be more patriotic?
Some of the speakers in this diverse group culled from a coalition of over 63 (63!) groups pointed out that not everyone can simply take advantage of the long hours some polls are open (in tiny rural towns, city hall might only be open for a few office hours). The worst (best?) example was that of a firefighter who might be on duty for 24 hours and thus deprived of his or her right to vote. Ouch! Or an EMT, or a teacher with small children to deal with. Or seniors. Or people with disabilities, or anyone who needs the maximum convenience to be able to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
Allowing for early voting seems like a no-brainer, and a recent Siena poll shows that 65% of New Yorkers think NY should have it. Indeed, early voting seems to have lots of bi-partisan support, a welcome rarity in our state government (it is actually a non-partisan idea). But the legislators have to actually vote for the money to be included in the budget. Some estimate that $6 million would do it, which is not a huge part of our budget. Here’s hoping our representatives vote for that money. Budget hearings are in February. Remind your reps to push for this money and this simple voting reform. Early voting rocks!
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