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Election Day in Cayuga County: Sacred Heart Church in Owasco.

In a perfect representative democracy, access to the ballot for legally registered voters would be equal. The time and effort required to get to a polling place wouldn't vary, helping to ensure that results weren't based on any factors besides which candidates the electorate supports.

Of course, there's no way to achieve absolute perfection in this endeavor. Voters in rural areas, for example, will likely have to travel farther than their counterparts in cities. In contrast, it's possible that longer lines will form at urban polling places where the population is more concentrated.

But the goal for any election should be to minimize those disparities.

The challenge of meeting that goal is emerging this year in New York state with the establishment of early voting. Last week, counties came out with their preliminary early voting plans for the fall general election, and both Cayuga and Onondaga counties are staring at the potential for a troubling gap in access to early voting polling places.

As of now, elections commissioners in Cayuga County are hoping to establish three early voting sites, one in Auburn and one each toward the southern and northern ends of the geographically long county. A key to that plan, it seems, is securing state funding to get those two rural sites set up and to operate them when early voting takes place. The law only requires Cayuga County to have one site, based on the number of registered voters.

Onondaga County has put out an initial plan to have six early voting sites spread around the county, but officials there are hoping to add at least two more.

As we look at these two plans, the potential for a geographic disadvantage is glaring. Early voting in Cayuga County with just an Auburn polling place would require residents at the southern and northern ends — towns such as Venice, Summerhill, Sterling and Victory — to make roughly hour-and-half round-trip drives should they seek to vote early. In Onondaga County, the six-site plan is leaving a large hole in the southwest section of the county, putting some voters in Skaneateles, Spafford and Marcellus (and Elbridge to a lesser extent) in a similar situation for getting to the closest polling place.

This may not be a big problem for town races. But for countywide contests (and in future years, statewide and presidential races), this would lead to an uneven playing field. Remember, the goal of early voting is to increase ballot access, but that effort would be undermined if that access expansion is geared toward certain voters.

The good news for voters in both Cayuga and Onondaga counties is that elections commissioners appear to see the importance of maximizing early voting polling places, but state money could be the key. To that end, we urge our state and local elected officials to make sure that Albany comes through with the financial support.

The Citizen editorial board includes interim publisher Thomas Salvo, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

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