We were pleased that the state Legislature included early voting as one of the election reforms passed this year, but the implementation stands a great chance of backfiring if legislators fail to include a dedicated funding source to make it happen.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration said in January that the state budget would more than cover the cost of early voting through savings realized by merging state and federal primaries and an expansion of sales taxes collected from out-of-state companies selling products to New Yorkers.
The consolidation of federal and state primary elections will surely cut costs, but those savings won't be realized for another year, and counties need to prepare for early voting this fall. And even if the state expands internet sales taxes, that type of income fluctuates with economic cycles, while the costs related to early voting will be fixed annual expenditures.
The other problem with the internet proposal is that it would just be another tax on New Yorkers, because online shoppers would be forced to absorb the cost of increased prices.
Election reforms are long overdue in New York, and early voting will help people more easily participate in the democratic process. But it will cost as much as $25 million to implement statewide. Local election boards will need additional hardware and enough personnel to cover weekday, weekend and evening hours for eight additional days every election cycle.
The Legislature made the right move in passing early voting, but it must not be content to lean on primary consolidation savings that are more than a year away — and sales taxes of unknown quantities — to cover the costs.
The state needs to collect hard data from county elections boards to determine just what the cost of early voting is going to be and then follow through and come up with a straightforward, dependable way to pay for it.
The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Rob Forcey, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.