Onondaga County’s elections commissioners have differing opinions on the removal of early voting and other reforms in the new state budget. As with many issues, the divide appears to fall along party lines in the legislature, as well.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, included funds for early voting in his budget, and the majority Democrat Assembly got behind it. However, the Republican led Senate did not. Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny is also the party caucus chair with the New York State Election Commissioners Association. He says he’s disappointed, since the plan would have lifted the burden from county boards.
"Having it as part of the budget process seemed like a logical step to resolving that with New York State funds being set aside to ease that burden or eliminate that burden."
Onondaga County Republican Elections Commissioner Michelle Sardo is glad early voting was dropped from the budget.
"We'd have to pay more money for trucking. We'd have to pay more money for ballot printing and affidavits. There would be about five to six polling places open throughout the county. We'd have to have to have technicians going around to each place to make sure everything is all set. We'd have to program these machines."
Sardo says it’s still taxpayer money, regardless of whether the state foots the $7 million bill or not. She’d rather see the money put toward new voting machines and cybersecurity. Czarny says the idea behind allowing early voting is to increase access to the polls and boost the state’s stubbornly low voter turnout. After all he says, 37 other states have early voting options.
"Most of the states that are ahead of us have early voting. We also know that early voting usage in those states has dramatically increased over the last few years where more and more voters, of all different political ideologies, are using early voting as an alternative to voting on election day."
Czarny says it's important to give voters more options, and he hopes lawmakers take up the measure separately before the end of session so early voting can take place for the 2019 elections.
Sardo, however, argues that early voting bears no impact on voter turnout.
"It does not increase voter turnout. In the history and the research that has been done, it does not increase voter turnout at all. Some people are just not interested and I'm not sure why."
While the commissioners diverge on early voting, they agree that holding separate state and federal primaries, which costs $50 million, is wasteful.
"Which is way more than what early voting was estimated to cost, yet the legislators have not moved to resolve that issue for the last five years," Czarny says.
"So if they could combine the two and have one primary and have one primary you'd save a lot of money there because you have to open up every polling place," says Sardo.
Despite some limited mutual agreement, lawmakers don’t appear to be in any rush to change that part of New York’s complicated and confusing election laws.