Election reform advocates received help from actress and activist Piper Perabo to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include funding for early voting in his state budget proposal.
Perabo, who is best known for her roles in the movie "Coyote Ugly" and the TV series "Covert Affairs", hailed the passage of early voting and other election reforms. The state Legislature adopted seven voting reform bills, five of which were signed by Cuomo last week.
One of the bills makes New York the 38th state to allow early voting. Under New York's early voting law, counties must have one polling location for every 50,000 voters. The polling sites will be open for nine days before Election Day.
Early voting will commence this year, but there are questions about how it will be funded. When Cuomo released his executive budget proposal, it didn't include any funding for implementing early voting.
The Cuomo administration defended this decision by explaining that the consolidation of the federal and state primary elections will save counties $25 million. But local government officials note that any savings won't be realized until 2020, the next year when federal and state primary elections are scheduled.
A survey of upstate New York election commissioners found it will cost at least $22.75 million to implement early voting in 2019. Much of the funding — between $15 and $20 million — would cover capital improvements, such as electronic poll books, to help administer early voting.
Unless the state budget includes funding to implement early voting, the burden will fall to the counties. Perabo, who lives in New York, hopes Cuomo will reconsider and add funding for early voting in his budget plan.
"It's a huge victory, but we need the governor to put his money where his mouth is," she said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. "We can't have early voting in name only."
Perabo was joined on the Let NY Vote coalition's conference call by Jenny Flanagan, who serves as Colorado's deputy secretary of state. Colorado adopted early voting in 1996. Along with other reforms, Flanagan believes the changes have paid off.
More than 90 percent of eligible voters in Colorado are registered to vote, according to Flanagan. For the midterm election last year, 63 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Colorado. It was the second-highest turnout rate in the nation.
"We see this success in Colorado because we've invested in an election model that provides opportunities and options for voters when they need them," Flanagan said.
Onondaga County Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny, who participated on the call, highlighted the need for state funding to implement early voting. Many counties, he explained, have already adopted budgets for 2019. Since the counties didn't include funding for early voting in their budgets, state funding is needed.
Czarny said state aid can help counties identify polling locations for early voting, pay inspectors and purchase electronic poll books.
"The state and its leaders have a vested interest in making sure that this high-profile reform gets the proper funding so we can reach our full potential," Czarny said.
One possible option for Cuomo is adding early voting funds when he releases his 30-day budget amendments next month. Last year, Cuomo used a 30-day amendment to add $7 million to his budget proposal. Advocates are hopeful the governor will do the same this year.
Democrats in the state Legislature have said they support including funds in the budget for early voting. Cuomo and legislative leaders aim to have a budget agreement in place by the end of March.