Early voting a success, but access varied widely from county to county

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office

The first-ever early voting period in New York ended on Sunday. Two leading good government groups see the rollout as largely a success, but say there is room for improvement before the 2020 presidential election.

On January 24, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to allow early voting in New York, making it one of 39 states that lets residents vote as early as Saturday, October 26 through Sunday, November 3, before Election Day.

The 2019 New York state budget included $14.7 million for electronic poll-books and $10 million for counties to implement early voting.

The law requires each county to have at least one early-voting poll site. Counties are mandated to have one site per 50,000 registered voters, but are not required to have more than seven sites.

Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause/NY, said in a statement Wednesday morning that “Early Voting was a huge success across New York. Wait times were minimal — or non existent — and whatever minor hiccups happened, there was ample time for the Board of Elections to respond. This is how voting should be.”

The New York Public Interest Research Group released data regarding early voting sites across New York state. The data shows the number of active voters, early voting sites and average number of voters per site within each county.

While 34 counties had only one early voting site, others had as many as 37 early voting sites. The full list of voters per early voting site can be found here.

NYPIRG’s data analysis illustrates the wide disparity in the ratio of of voters to early voting sites from one county to another. Sixteen counties had a ratio greater than one early voting site per 50,000 voters. Manhattan had an average of 112,947 voters for each of its nine early voting sites, which is more than double the law’s intended amount. In contrast, Erie County opened 37 early voting sites with an estimated 16,000 voters per location.

This is not illegal, but according to NYPIRG, is unfair to voters. The good-government group is hoping this wide disparity is addressed prior to the 2020 presidential election and voters will have greater access to early voting sites, regardless of which county they live in.

NYPIRG believes that New York should require that no county is allowed to have ratios of voters to early voting polls of more than 50,000-to-one. And that every local community in which the people rely heavily on mass transportation, or ones that have dense population centers, or rural areas in which distances are far, must have reasonable access.