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Days before early voting begins, some lawmakers say they already want to make changes

The state’s new early voting system doesn’t begin until Saturday, but some lawmakers and voting rights advocates already want changes to the law.

New York Attorney General Tish James led off a rally in New York City to bring attention to the new law, which permits nine additional days for voters to cast a ballot.

“Starting this Saturday, New Yorkers can now vote early for the first time,” James said to cheers.

The early voting begins on Saturday and runs through Sunday, Nov. 3. James said the additional days give voters the flexibility to vote when it’s more convenient for them.

“They are not forced to choose between going to work or voting,” said James. “They are not forced to choose between caring for a sick family member or voting. And they are not forced to wait in line for hours.”

County elections boards are responsible for the details of the voting, and the number of polling sites and their hours vary, depending on which county you live in. It’s probably best to check with your local county board of elections for information on where to vote. It’s also very likely that the site will be different from your usual Election Day polling place.

Already, there are some unforeseen glitches.

In upstate Rensselaer County, two polling places will be offered, one in the suburbs and one in a rural area. There will be no early polling site, however, in the urban center of Troy.

Democrats in local government advocated for a site, but Republicans who are in power in the county said there were not any sites in the city that were suitable.

State lawmakers who represent portions of the region, Sen. Neil Breslin and Assemblyman John McDonald, both Democrats, are proposing a change to the early voting law that would require at least one early polling site be made available in the largest urban area in each county. Breslin said leaving out the urban center violates the spirit of the new law.

“I think there’s an argument to say that you are depriving groups of people in the city of Troy that might not have transportation," Breslin said, "might be working two or three different jobs, an inability to properly vote in this election, depriving them of their constitutional right to do so.” 

Sen. Neil Breslin D-Albany, makes a point Tuesday, Oct. 22, during a news conference on proposed changes to early voting laws at Unity House in Troy.

Laura Ladd Bierman with the League of Women Voters supports the proposed change. She said she’s also concerned about access to early voting in the 34 counties in the state that have smaller populations and are only required to have one polling site. In most cases, the site chosen is the county Board of Elections.

But she said in some counties, those offices are not in the most populated urban center in the county.

“We need to look at that,” said Bierman. “I think we need to come up with better guidelines from the state and not leave it just to the counties to determine where they can be.”

The League has a survey on its website that will ask voters in the coming days about their experiences with early voting, what they liked or didn’t like, and how it can be improved. 

James said her office also will closely monitor the early voting to make sure it’s carried out fairly.

The 2019 races are almost all for local elected seats, and turnout is expected to be light, both for early voting and on Election Day.

Next year, however, is a presidential election year, with much higher interest. Supporters of early voting hope any problems in the system can be worked out by then.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.