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North Country election officials differ on whether early voting is worth the extra cash and work

'I voted' stickers at St. Lawrence County's early voting site in Canton.
Julia Ritchey
'I voted' stickers at St. Lawrence County's early voting site in Canton.

North Country election officials differ on whether early voting is worth the extra cash and work

New York is one of forty-six states that have early voting. It starts tomorrow.

Early voting became more popular during the pandemic when people were worried about social distancing. Now it’s slowly becoming a habit for some voters. But it costs the people who run elections more time and money.

Each county has at least one early voting site during the ten days leading up to election day.

"We have late hours. We have weekend hours. We have 88 hours of in-person voting and 72 of them happen before election day," said Jude Seymour, Jefferson County’s Republican election commissioner.

Every county has two commissioners, one Republican, and one Democrat.

"Michelle is my Democratic colleague and I are — you can’t find two bigger cheerleaders for voting," he said.

Seymour said people who take advantage of it really like the convenience of early voting. He pulled up some numbers while we were on the phone recently. Jefferson County has about 60,000 registered voters.

"Twenty-twenty, during the primary...Early voting total: 82 people," he laughed and said, "That didn’t go so hot I guess."

But the general election was better, 5000 people voted early. The following year he said early voting was down but so was the overall voter turnout.

Election commissioners in several other North Country counties describe a similar pattern. Mary Dyer is the Democratic commissioner in Clinton County.

"[Of] course, ‘21 was less than ‘20 because it wasn’t a presidential year. I think this year will be better, but the absentee rate is really turned up this year. So whether it’s the gubernatorial or the congress, I’m not sure," she said.

Other commissioners say they expect turnout will be higher this year, too. But, they say the majority of people still vote on election day. The trend is the same across New York state.

Some officials said people are still learning about early voting and numbers are going up. But Hamilton County Republican elections commissioner, Gail Teal doesn't see that happening.

"Here in Hamilton County, we don’t have a great turnout for early voting," she said.

Hamilton is the least populated county in the state, with only 4,200 active voters.

"You know, personally, I just, for what it costs our board, personally, it’s a waste, I feel," Teal said.

She said they spend $7,300 paying workers just for the early voting period. She said that’s a lot for a small, rural county. Commissioners say the extra money and time haven’t changed overall voter turnout.

But, for voting "cheerleader" Jude Seymour, the Jefferson County commissioner, that’s not the only way to measure early voting’s value.

"For a lot of people, that’s not the way we should, we should, um, categorize this. It shouldn’t be about how much money was spent per vote. It’s just, how, how much did we encourage people, how much did we break down the barriers and give people the opportunity to vote," he said.

Early voting begins this Saturday. The last day is November 6th. Election day is November 8.

Check hereto find out early voting hours and polling places in your county.