Morning read: Early voting woes in Franklin County

A St. Lawrence County voter on Election Day, 2012. Photo: Julie Grant

Election day may be months away (it’s Tuesday, Nov. 5, this year), but county officials are already planning. In Franklin County, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise reports today that county election commissioners are worried a new federal law could require them to make voting available for 15 days before Election Day.

To be clear, the federal law they’re worried about isn’t actually law yet — it’s just under consideration. In fact, it’s barely that, it seems. I wasn’t clear on which law officials were concerned about, so I got in touch with the author of this article who says she believes it’s the SIMPLE Voting Act, H.R. 6591. On, a site that tracks legislation in the US Congress and state legislatures, the bill is listed as “died (referred to committee),”as of Nov. 15, 2012. There’s also a bill in the house from Rep. John Lewis (Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s also involved in this one) that’s in committee in Congress. GovTrack is predicting that bill, H.R. 12, has a zero percent chance of being enacted (this is based in part on the fact that so few bills make it past committee and get enacted annually.

So the possibility of this particular bill becoming law seems a bit remote at this point. But after the difficulties many in Florida faced with early voting during the last election, and the lawsuit currently pending against the state in federal court, reform of early voting (and absentee balloting) does seem to be a good possibility.

Planning for that eventuality is on county officials’ minds, and county Election Commissioners Kelly Cox and Veronica King said at a county board meeting last week that it could present real problems.

Here’s the idea: If early voting becomes federal law, it will mean that voting sites will have to be open for some period (likely, up to 15 days) before “official” Election Day. And if that happens, it will not only require some extra preparation by the county (which will cost money as some materials will need to be updated), but will also be expensive for the county in an ongoing way. The county will have to staff polling places, and King said the Franklin County just doesn’t have the money. Commissioners asked county legislators to send a letter to state and federal officials opposing the law.

County Board Chair David “Billy” Jones invoked a phrase guaranteed to get any cost-conscious New York state resident’s back up to describe the possibility: “It smells like another unfunded mandate to me, a little bit.”

8 Comments on “Morning read: Early voting woes in Franklin County”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    For the record, last week the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors passed a “just in case” resolution opposing this possible early voting law.
    The board views the possible law as unneeded and just one more unfunded mandate.

  2. The Original Larry says:

    What is the rationale for early voting. Can’t home bound or disabled people use absentee ballots?

  3. Peter Hahn says:

    Larry – the rationale is that in some urban centers, people have to stand in line many hours to vote, which is a burden – and some people just cant do it for family or work related reasons. If there were more days to vote, no one would have to wait so long.

    Technically you arent supposed to use absentee balloting if you arent actually going anywhere.

  4. Peter Hahn says:

    The problem for rural counties is that it is very expensive, and probably not needed.

  5. Peter Hahn says:

    Letting people vote by mail – basically letting anyone use absentee ballots for any reason at all, would accomplish the same thing and be a lot cheaper.

  6. The Original Larry says:

    Thanks Peter, I hadn’t considered that. I agree with your 4:50 comment.

  7. Rancid Crabtree says:

    People can vote by mail. Absentee ballots have been and continue to be available. Technicalities aside, it’s an existing option. It would make far more sense to alter the technical rule mentioned by Peter than to lay another unfunded mandate on the taxpayer.

  8. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Of course one problem with absentee ballots is when politicians move to block the legitimacy of entire groups of absentee voters as was done to military absentee ballots in the last 2 or 3 elections. You guess which party was involved in that.

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