A call for early voting and other ways to make it easier to vote in New York State

albany county ballot scanner

There are a lot of steps before you get this to this point.

Given that the United States republic is more than two centuries old, it's remarkable that we still struggle with the mechanics of one of the fundamental aspects of democratic government: voting.

New York State is no exception, as a new report from the office of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman notes the presidential primaries this year highlighted multiple problems with how the state's voting system is set up and administered. Among the most amazing examples: A person already registered to vote had to have declared or changed her party affiliation 193 days ahead of the primary in order to be eligible to vote.

The report details many of these problems and also offers a slate of potential upgrades of the state's voting and voting registration processes. One that we suspect would be popular: early voting. A clip from the report:

Permitting early voting is an easy solution to the problems of long lines and overwhelmed poll sites. Under New York State Election Law, the only way by which voters can cast a ballot early is by submitting an absentee ballot. However, access to absentee ballots is limited to a specific set of circumstances ... As a result, New York is one of only 13 states that fails to provide all voters the opportunity to cast a ballot in person prior to an election day. Permitting early voting in New York would make voting more accessible while simultaneously alleviating some of the pressure on poll sites and workers caused by heavy Election Day traffic.

Many of the other proposed reforms also seem very reasonable, such such as...

+ Creating a system of automatic voter registration that would be opt out
+ Having that system automatically update when people move
+ Allowing same-day voter registration
+ Instituting uniform poll hours for both primaries and general elections so people know when they can vote
+ Providing "no excuse" absentee voting
+ Allowing people to declare their party affiliation closer to primaries
+ Consolidating primaries for various elections on the same day.

Of course, if you're cynical -- or maybe just realistic -- you might guess that various complications in the process of voting are viewed more as a feature than a bug by some of the people who work behind the scenes in politics. Having both major parties step up to make these sorts of changes would be a statement otherwise.

Shaking things up even more

And if we really wanted to shake things up here, New York might also look at having nonpartisan elections. There's been a bit of push lately for the idea nationwide. Such a change would less the power of political parties as gatekeepers and allow more people to participate in narrowing the field of contenders for an office. California switched to this system a few years ago -- the top two vote getters in the primary, regardless of party, move on to the general election.

This sort of setup would significantly change contests such as the election for mayor of Albany. The city's politics are dominated by Democrats, and the winner of the party's primary in the early fall becomes the de facto winner of the mayorship. That means a very small slice of people end up picking the mayor. In the last election, in 2013, Kathy Sheehan won the primary with just 6,973 votes -- in a city of roughly 98,000 people.

Earlier on AOA: That time I was put in charge of a polling location at the last minute

The Scoop

For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

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