Friday, January 18, 2019

New Yorkers need more opportunities for voting access

As you can imagine, I religiously vote in the November elections.

I did miss the opportunity to do so about 12 years ago, though. That day, a customer came to town and it turned into a late evening of work. I didn’t return to Gasport until after the polls closed.

My lack of participation in that election really bothered me. To ensure that would never happen again, I have applied for, received, and utilized absentee ballots in every general election since. While it’s not guaranteed that I would be absent from my district on election day I’ve always noted on my application that the nature of my job can lead to that – I might have to travel out-of-state to see a customer with little notice.

State law and local election commissioners have accommodated me, and I really appreciate it.

But, that can’t work for everyone. The only two factors the New York Constitution addresses as permissible for absentee ballots are absence from the county on Election Day or a disability. It doesn’t afford flexibility for the general busy-ness of life.

When you’re in a position of responsibility uncertainty of your schedule is a certainty. You don’t have to be running a business to meet that criteria -- if you’re a parent or a volunteer you know exactly what I’m talking about. You can be absent from the polls with ease, even though you never left the county. Your kids have school, clubs, and events – and you still have to cook dinner and get those rugrats to bed. If you give of yourself to the community as a coach or scout leader, you know that some evenings can be long. If you’re a volunteer firefighter it’s well known that fires, accidents, and medical events don’t give a hoot about your personal schedule.

A lot of people are busy, doing what they can as moms, dads, entrepreneurs, and volunteers to make the world a better place. We shouldn’t disallow their participation in the polls just because life got in the way. Giving them only a small window of morning hours or evening hours one day each year doesn’t cut it in this modern world. And, really, it never did: A lot of farmers, laborers, and residents of outlying areas skipped on voting before faster transportation came to be (cars instead of horses). A lack of electoral participation has plagued America since Day One. 

More people would vote if they had more time -- or more ways -- to do so. It’s good to see that the New York State Assembly took that up as a charge for 2019.

Already in this young legislative session they introduced and passed bill A07623 which allows for a change of the language of the New York State Constitution, eliminating the requirement for the only two aforementioned barriers for voting (absence, disability). The revised law would allow non-excuse absentee voting, meaning anyone could apply for and receive an absentee ballot, regardless of the reason. This would allow them to fill out the ballot at home without having to fret about finding time to make it to the polls. That’s a winner for so many people.

To make that so there are still two obstacles to overcome.

One is the Senate. Their version of the bill (S0084) has yet to be presented this session as it has languished in their judiciary committee for review since early 2017. Hopefully this is the year – on the heels of the changes in leadership and party control -- that the Senate finally moves on it since the formerly GOP-led version had little interest in it.  

Even if they do pass it, any change can’t happen immediately. It would have to be passed yet again by both houses in the 2020 session before going to the general population to vote on the amendment.

Another proposal passed by the Assembly was A09608B which allows for early voting, a practice already enjoyed by 33 states. Their bill would establish a seven-day early voting period for registered voters to vote in person prior to any election. Each county would be required to provide a set amount of early voting hours, but would have the flexibility to offer hours and polling stations that best meet the needs of its residents.

There is currently not a Senate bill to accompany the Assembly’s, but with this being emphasized not only by the Assembly but also Governor Cuomo it’s safe to say one will be introduced soon.

I encourage you to reach out to your Senator and ask him or her to support both non-excuse absentee ballots and early voting. While those practices are not the cure-all for what ails American civics (participation won’t magically jump to 70 percent), they do offer flexibility for busy people and they ensure that those of us trying to make a difference in the world are also given guaranteed chances to make a difference at the polls, too.

From the 21 January 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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