NY advances early voting bill, but it faces long odds

New York lawmakers advanced a bill Monday to create early voting — but the measure may face a tough road to passage.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, would establish a week of early voting, ending the Sunday before Election Day. Every county would offer at least one early voting site, but larger counties would be required to have more.

Democrats voted to support the bill, while Republicans voted to advance it without a recommendation.

Republicans control the state Senate, and in the past they’ve shown little willingness to back early voting, which is usually thought to advantage Democrats.

Indeed, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan suggested he sees the idea as a joke.

“Early voting is defined in so many different ways,” Flanagan said at an event Monday, Politico reported. “Is it one day? I was joking around that I support early voting, just start it at 5 o’ clock in the morning instead of six.”

Of course, that would do little to help working New Yorkers whose week-day schedules are so tight that they can’t take time to vote.

“But it is a serious subject and it’s something we should be talking about,” Flanagan continued. “But how do you do that without it costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county [election boards] are strapped right now, and I think we have a procedure that on the whole works well.”

In fact, a 2013 study of early voting by the Brennan Center found that as many elections officials think early voting saves money, by reducing Election Day costs, as think it costs money. And complaints about money ring hollow when New York holds its presidential, state, and local primaries on three separate dates — a practice that not only reduces turnout but likely costs far more than seven days of early voting would.

Despite Flanagan’s claim that New York’s voting system works well, the state ranks 41st out of 50 in voter participation. In addition to having no early voting, it doesn’t offer same-day voter registration, and makes voters register with a party over a year ahead of the general election.

The state’s restrictive voting policies were put under the spotlight in last year’s presidential primary, when over 100,000 Brooklyn voters were disenfranchised by the elections board because they hadn’t voted in recent elections.

Activists are currently pressing lawmakers to adopt several election reforms, in addition to the early voting measure. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signaled at the start of the year that voting reform was a top priority. But it didn’t make it into the budget deal announced in April, and Cuomo has since suggested it won’t happen this year.

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