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New York Holds First Election Using Early Voting


Signed into law on Jan. 24, 2019, New York State passed Senate Bill S1102, which implemented early voting in the state, making it the 40th state to do so.

The practice goes back to the 1980s when California became the first state to implement early voting by eliminating the requirement that voters have an excuse to vote by mail.

Since then, the rates of early voting has climbed from 14.2% in 2002 to 39.8% in 2018, according to the Census Bureau.

While the rates for early voting have been rising across the country, New York’s first time implementing the system didn’t contribute much to turnout for the Nov. 2019 election. According to the Tompkins County Board of Elections website, 1,408 people, 2.51% turnout, voted early in the past election, while 15,000 people, 26.77% turnout, voted on election day.

Elizabeth Adams, a member of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee, said she would have liked the implementation of early voting to be better, but thought it turned out like many expected. Adam’s is also the president of the Tompkins County Progressive.

“My feeling is, that it was not a failure,” Adams said. “I was dreaming and hoping that there would be a ton of turnout early, and it was more in line with what people said, a couple percent. People say from the research that the overall turnout doesn’t tend to get that much higher, it’s just people vote early who would otherwise have voted on Election Day.”

Despite the low turnout from early voting, Adams still thinks it’s worth having, as some people may run into difficulty voting on election day.

“I say, OK, if that’s all it was it’s still good, because the inconvenience sometimes of, on a particular day, you have to make time to get somewhere and you don’t know how long the lines gonna be,” Adams said. “But if you have two weeks beforehand, that you can fit in your schedule, it takes the stress off and I hope it helps people build better habits.”

According to Stephen DeWitt, the Democrat commissioner for the Board of Elections, Tompkins County was given over $78,000 for electronic poll books, along with extra money for the Help America Vote Act, which was passed in 2002. DeWitt said the county spent around $200,000 to fund early voting for this election cycle in Tompkins County.

DeWitt said that despite the presence of early voting, some people still prefer to vote on election day and chose not to use the new service.

“I know some people that work across from the town hall that say ‘no, I’m an election day voter,’” Dewiit said. “I talked to a couple people who said I’m not going to vote early, I’m going to vote on election day.”

Tompkins County’s first foray into early voting produced low turnout, which is to be expected of an off-year (Graph by Sam Haut)

DeWitt felt the low turnout came from a lack of competitive races in the county, but he anticipates the turnout numbers for early voting to rise in future races.

“I think what you’re going to find next year for the presidential primary just on the democratic side alone, you’re probably going to get 20,000,” DeWitt said. “We’re going to probably get more voter turnout for the presidential primary. I suspect next year the number [of early voters] will grow substantially, I can’t tell you how much cause this is new, but what the vendors tell us is what the history has shown where you have early voting, it starts out low and plateaus at 40%.”

(Feature Image: “Day 316 Nov 2” by sj_sanders is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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