New York is one of just a handful of states that still don't allow early voting

polling place general election sign

Electoral fact of the day: New York is one of only 13 states that do not have some form of early voting. [NCSL]

Given that early voting makes it easier to vote and is popular in many other states, Common Cause New York's Susan Lerner told the New York Times its absence here is "an embarrassment." [Brennan Center] [NYT]

Back in February a Siena poll asked people in the state about early voting. Two-thirds of respondents said they supported it. Though there was a partisan split on the issue: 81 percent of Democrats said they supported it, but just 48 percent of Republicans. Among Independents, 64 percent supported it.

As part of his State of the State address this past January, Andrew Cuomo proposed a package of measures related to elections and campaigns. It included a measure to allow early voting during the 12 days ahead of Election Day. And it would require at least one voting location per county (or one location per 50,000 people) that would be open at least eight hours per day on weekdays and five hours on weekends. (The proposals also included automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration.)

In recent years legislation that would allow a week of early voting ahead of Election Day in New York has passed in the state Assembly, but gotten nowhere in the state Senate. It will be worth watching whether that changes if Democrats win control of the state Senate in the upcoming election.

Whether early voting actually leads more people to vote is apparently not definitively settled. There's some evidence that it could lead to turnout that's a few points higher. There are also some studies that pointed to lower turnout when early voting is implemented by itself. (That first link is from the liberal Center for American Progress and the second is from the conservative Heritage Foundation, which might give some indication of whether the people in those camps think early voting will help or hurt their electoral chances. See also the poll results and state legislative history above.) [Center for American Progress] [Heritage Foundation]

And there's also some thinking and evidence that early voting might have a small effect on increasing turnout, but mostly the people who are going to vote are going to vote regardless. [Washington Post]

That said, it's hard to imagine that making voting easier and more convenient will not lead to more people voting in the long run, especially if it's matched up with other measures like same-day voter registration.

The counter argument to early voting is that something might happen between the time a person casts their vote and the actual Election Day that would have prompted them to vote differently. There's also some criticism that it makes it harder for campaigns and parties to conduct get-out-the-vote operations because the voting period is spread over a longer time frame.

And on that first objection, sure, it's possible. But keeping the early voting window at a week or two could probably address that. And if you're a person who's really worried about that, you could still line up to vote during the last hour or two of Election Day.

Absentee voting

Of course, New York does have absentee balloting, but it's not "no-excuse" absentee voting. Technically, to qualify for an absentee ballot here, you're supposed to be out of town on Election Day or unable to get to the polls because of illness or disability or you're the primary caregiver for someone who's ill or has a disability. (Twenty-seven states + DC allow no-excuse absentee voting.)

Voting by mail

New to us: Three states -- Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- have "all-mail" voting. Every voter marked as eligible on the roll gets sent a ballot that can be mailed back in or dropped off at a voting center. [NCSL]

Bonus historical bit

The roots of modern absentee and early voting stretch back to the Civil War and efforts to allow soldiers deployed in the war to vote. [Smithsonian]


+ Albany's mayor gets selected by just a small slice of the city's population


It seems pretty ridiculous that we have a mail-in vote system and only allow people who will be out of town (and some other exceptions) to use it.

Why should early voting even be a question? We are a representative democracy – any reasonable means to support people in their efforts to vote should be available. As for the naysayers, if candidates did more to be clear on their positions and offer voters real options, last minute scrambles to drum up support would be less necessary. With regard to Heritage, even they, in making the case against early voting on the whole, acknowledge that states with limited windows (e.g. 10 days) saw increased turnout. And what about the argument that people would not have all of the information before an election to cast a vote without the risk of something happening that would make them change their mind? How often is last minute information really helpful as opposed to an attack ad or some “gotcha” trying to discredit a candidate? Folks – it’s time that we demand that our public servants empower the people by making it easier to hold them accountable through a voting system that welcomes the option for greater participation.

Paul, just request an absentee ballot and mail it in. I do it every year. They don't really care what the reason is.

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