A first for New York’s ballot casters: Early voting

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

The old way: At last year’s primary, poll workers at the Guilderland Center firehouse used paper and pen to track voters. Starting this fall, poll workers across the state will use electronic devices instead.

ALBANY COUNTY — Earlier this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a series of voting reforms aimed at increasing New York State’s constant and embarrassingly low voter turnout rate while simultaneously improving its incumbent-protective “worst-in-the-country” electoral apparatus. 

“This year saw probably more changes in the election law than any in recent memory — and they came down very fast,” said Albany County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Matthew Clyne. 

Included among the January reforms were:

— The availability of absentee ballots to any eligible voter, which 31 states already allow;

— Same-day voter registration, allowed in 20 states already;

— The synchronizing federal and state elections — New York was the only state in the country last year to hold its state and federal primaries on different days;

— An automatic transfer of voter registration when residents move to a different county; and

— Early voting, which already happens in 39 states

However, two of the reforms — same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting by mail — require a constitutional amendment, which means passing in the 2018 legislature (which they did), passing the 2020 legislature — then going to a public referendum in 2021. 

In Albany County, the first-ever early-voting period starts on Saturday, Oct. 26, and ends on Sunday, Nov. 3; the general election is on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Early voting had been advocated for in New York State for years; however, it couldn’t be implemented because the Republican-controlled State Senate wouldn’t pass it. Once Democrats took power in both houses, Clyne said, they quickly set about to institute electoral reforms.

There is, however, little evidence that shows early voting increases turnout; rather, it’s mostly used by people who would have voted anyway — just earlier

One of the major elements of early voting, Clyne said, is the substitution of electronic poll books, which are souped-up iPads, for the old, cumbersome voter books.

Clyne said, when voters sign into the electronic poll book, that information is immediately sent to the board of elections as well as to each of the other electronic poll books in the county. So, at any given polling station at any given time, the board of elections will have information about who voted and when they voted.

The state has put up $14.7 million in funding for the electronic poll books.

The electronic poll books will also allow poll inspectors to quickly process voter traffic, Clyne said. The average amount of time it takes to process a voter with the electronic poll book is 27 about seconds, which is because inspectors no longer have to fumble through the very large voter books, trying to locate a person’s name. Now, a person will give the first three initials of his or her first name and the first three initials of his or her last name to get signed in. 

And, while Clyne didn’t have the average amount of time it took to process a voter using the old voter books, he said that the big advantage of using electronic poll books is that it cuts down on errors. 

There would be times when someone would go into a polling site and would be told — incorrectly — that his name was not in the poll book, Clyne said, then that person would have cast an affidavit ballot, which is kept separate from other ballots until after the election, at which point, a determination would have to be made about the voter’s eligibility.

In comparison, he said, with an electronic poll book, it would be unusual if a person were not identified quickly and accurately. 

Another new technology voters will see is on-demand ballot printers, Clyne said, so when someone comes into a polling station and the electronic poll book identifies the election district that the person resides in, it will communicate that to the printer, which prints out the corresponding ballot that is specific to that election district.

New technology

Given that the county will be rolling out a new technology on top of early voting, and considering that poll inspectors tend to be senior citizens, Clyne was asked if there was any concern about not being able to teach the inspectors the new technology.

“No,” he said. “It’s pretty user-friendly.”

The people who have been trained so far have “taken to it,” he said. 

The early-voting poll workers will receive a few hours of training to get them familiar with how to operate iPads, Clyne said. 

He said that the county recently ran a pilot program with the electronic poll books for a special runoff election in the city of Cohoes — there had been a tie during the primary. “They worked fine; the voters were OK with them,” he said.

Sharon Boehlke, a New Scotland resident and early-voting polling inspector, said that, if someone has a smartphone, “learning the iPad shouldn’t be that hard.”

A carry-over concern from the 2016 election is the susceptibility of the board of elections to outside interference. 

Insofar as it pertains to the actual voting machines, Clyne said, there is no real concern of outside interference.

“There’s a lot of misconception about the vulnerabilities of these machines,” he said. New York State was one of the last states to have an electronic-voting system.

The county’s voting machines have no wireless interface — the only way the machines could be tampered with is by physically breaking into them, he said.

However, Clyne said, there is some concern about the voter-registration database, which is online. That is something that, theoretically, poses a problem.

 

 

Where and when to vote early

ALBANY COUNTY — Early voting times are as follows:

Saturday, Oct. 26, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 27, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Monday, Oct. 28, from noon to 8 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 29, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 30, from noon to 8 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 31, from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 1, from    9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 2, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 3, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

New Scotland early voters will have to go to Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 85 Elm Ave., Delmar.

Hilltown residents can vote early in Berne — at Helderberg Ambulance, 978 Cole Hill Rd., East Berne

Guilderland residents can vote early at the Guilderland Fire Department  2303 Western Ave.

And any resident can vote at the Albany County Board of Elections, 32 North Russell Rd., Albany.

More Regional News

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