Nassau County has proposed borrowing $3.7 million to fund in-person early voting, as election officials negotiate the number of polling places that would be open up to 10 days before Election Day.
The money would be included in Nassau's multi-year capital plan, which must be approved by the Republican-controlled county legislature.
Early voting is projected to cost Nassau an extra $4.2 million in 2019, largely for one-time machinery costs, said Nassau Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner David Gugerty.
In January, the state authorized early voting. Under the law, counties can designate at least one early voting polling place for every 50,000 registered voters — which would mean 19 in Nassau, officials have said. The law also says counties cannot be forced to open more than seven polling places. Nassau opens about 365 during general elections.
A state Senate proposal would appropriate $10 million for early voting, while an Assembly version allocates $34 million.
County Executive Laura Curran and Democratic lawmakers have sought to open the full complement of 19 sites, while Republicans have expressed concern about costs and whether voter turnout will be high enough to justify opening that many.
“I think anything that we can do to increase participation in the democratic process, we have to do," Curran said. "I think making it easier for people to vote brings more people into the process. I think it makes our government officials more accountable, and there’s no downside with increased participation."
However, Curran said, “Ideally, we get the money back from the state.”
Joseph Kearney, deputy Republican commissioner of the Board of Elections, said of the state funding proposals, “At first blush, it doesn’t appear to be sufficient. We’ve been meeting, and we continue to meet, and I believe we are making progress, albeit some may think slowly.”
Kearney called Curran's funding proposal "a start."
But legislative Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) complained, "The state passes this early voting and then expects us to pay for it. It’s just another unfunded mandate. When they do this type of stuff, they should just fund the money for it, instead of making Nassau County taxpayers foot the bill.”
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said that with "revenue issues in Albany, it's not the most flush year; we're certainly making sure we're not putting the state in a bad position." But, he said, "making sure Nassau County has enough polling sites open to make it a robust voting process this October/November is certainly a priority for us."
Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) said, “None of us want the counties to have to shoulder the expense."
Gugerty said election officials were "pleased that the county is putting things in place to be able to help with funding, should there be a shortfall with the state."
Earlier in March, Gugerty and legislative Democrats held a news conference to urge GOP election officials to agree to open 19 sites.
“We . . . are all cautiously optimistic that we will be able to pick a mutually agreed-upon number within a couple of weeks, hopefully," Gugerty said.