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Good Afternoon

NY should push for additional voting reforms

Ballots are sorted at the Nassau County Board

Ballots are sorted at the Nassau County Board of Elections in Mineola on Friday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

If New York had not had early voting and expanded options for absentee balloting this year, the 2020 election would have been a disaster, combining the pandemic with people being forced into a narrow, crowded area to vote.

Instead, millions of people tried the new options. This swamped toiling elections workers with paper ballots and new duties, but it let people stay safely social distanced and still vote.

Progress, vindicated.

Now is the time to finish the job and keep improving the voting process in New York.

Start with a healthy expansion of early voting sites for future elections. Currently, counties must have one site per full increment of 50,000 registered voters and there’s no requirement for more than seven sites even in big counties. Even when counties like Nassau and Suffolk volunteered a few more, it wasn’t enough. People wanting to participate in the democratic process waited in long lines across Long Island.

Even when the pandemic is over, voters should not need to provide a justification to vote absentee. This year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo mandated that, due to the pandemic, voters could obtain an absentee ballot without having to tick off the usual boxes listing excuses. A permanent change would require a constitutional amendment, an issue Albany lawmakers should act on swiftly.

With more people voting by mail, every county should offer a way to track ballots online. This isn’t uncommon; New York’s bureaucratic infrastructure needs to step into the 21st century.

New Yorkers should also be frustrated at how long it takes county boards to process paper ballots. Nassau and Suffolk haven’t even begun to count absentees, most of which are due to arrive by Tuesday. One reason for this is the fact that New York allows those voters who cast absentee ballots to revoke them and vote, instead, in person. County boards say they need time to pull out those earlier votes. Surely with modern technology and tweaks to the current process a workaround could be found.

That’s just a small example of the larger rethinking needed about the way New Yorkers vote. The election boards’ structure avoids real accountability — the state BOE itself is run by commissioners appointed by the governor but recommended partially by party leaders and partially by legislative leaders.

After messy elections — and we’ve had plenty — there are often calls for "professionalizing" the boards and moving away from a system in which the parties dole out jobs. Critics of such reforms say that states with secretary of state positions sometimes fare no better. At the very least, we should seek national best practices to help update our Byzantine system here. That also means more spending on a method that can speed and secure the vote.

Our nation’s focus now is on how we count the votes and New York may be among the last states in the nation to get it done. Let’s not let the demand for a better system fall by the wayside between elections.

— The editorial board