All week, voters had the opportunity to head to the polls, with more chances this weekend, too.
So why would they need extra time off on Tuesday to vote? The simple answer: They don't.
Yet, now that Democrats control Albany, a broad new law they enacted allows every worker in New York just that: three hours of paid time off to vote on Election Day. Employees need give their supervisors only 48 hours notice, and they don't need to show they're unable to vote without the time off, prove they voted, or even that they're registered to vote.
The absurd measure, stuffed into the budget and passed in April by the State Legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, makes no sense in light of other smart changes such as early voting. It's not only unnecessary, it's also expensive and disruptive.
We won't know the real workplace impact until next week. But consider the disconcerting possibilities if many train conductors and bus drivers, emergency room doctors and nurses, or police officers and firefighters, all take time off. The alternative, in some cases, seems to be spending taxpayer money to avoid the worst-case scenarios.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority doled out overtime pay to keep Long Island Rail Road trains running on a primary day in June. Now, the MTA has what it hopes is a better plan, offering certain employees four hours of extra pay in exchange for not taking the three hours paid time off on Election Day itself. That could cost taxpayers millions of dollars to keep the trains moving.
The MTA's generosity comes in the context of contract negotiations that have exploded into ugly public rhetoric directed by union leaders at MTA management, most recently at a union rally Wednesday. Perhaps the Election Day incentive was a way to prevent an unofficial work stoppage.
While the MTA's need to maintain train and bus service on Election Day is clear, the extra-pay contingency doesn't bode well for future negotiations. It'll be up to MTA management — and Cuomo — to hold their ground when it comes to much-needed changes to contracts and work rules, even in the face of a strike threat.
The law's ramifications go far beyond the MTA.
Northwell Health, the state's largest private employer, worries about staffing its facilities. The Suffolk County Police Department says it might pay essential employees overtime to give them time to vote without compromising public safety. Will there be impacts on jails, urgent care centers or small businesses?
Employers should be armed with contingencies, and should comply with the law, although the legislation comes with no specific penalties. But workers shouldn't take advantage of it, and, when possible, should vote early or during off hours, so they can put in full shifts. Most important, Cuomo and state lawmakers should, come January, prioritize repealing this law.
The state has made voting easier, and that's worthy of applause. But taking that effort too far, without attention to the consequences, does far more harm than good.