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Lewis legislators oppose early voting, others may follow

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LOWVILLE — It didn’t take much coaxing for Lewis County legislators to oppose to an early-voting proposal being floated in Albany.

And officials in other counties, including St. Lawrence, also are concerned about its potential costs.

Lewis County legislators voted 10-0 to oppose early-voting bills that have been introduced in the Senate and the Assembly.

“If the law is passed, we’ll have to do it, and it will be very costly,” County Manager David H. Pendergast said.

The bills — introduced by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, both Democrats — would require counties to staff at least five polling sites for 14 days before a general election and the seven days before a primary election. Early-voting hours would be from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.

The intent of early voting, which is already recognized in 32 states, would be to improve voter turnout.

However, during an Election Committee meeting held just prior to Wednesday’s Legislature meeting, Lewis County election commissioners indicated that early voting could add roughly $80,000 in costs for the general election and about half that amount for primaries.

That estimate would include payment for poll workers, delivery of machines from the elections office to nine polling sites each day and additional ballots. Because of geography, commissioners said they would need to open nine sites to ensure adequate coverage.

They also expressed concern about finding enough people to serve as poll workers for so many days, having to pay overtime, adding workload to their four-person office and possibly needing more voting machines in the event of an extended impoundment.

“We don’t have the staff to do it or the machines to do it,” said Republican Commissioner Ann M. Nortz.

Rather than waiting until the monthly meeting in a couple of weeks, lawmakers at the full board meeting decided to act immediately.

“I don’t want to waste any time,” said Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan. “I want to send the message to Albany as soon as possible.”

The Inter-County Legislative Committee of the Adirondacks has already passed a similar resolution, he noted.

The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators has not yet discussed the implications of an early voting initiative, but it has the county Board of Elections talking.

“I oppose early voting,” said Republican County Commissioner Thomas A. Nichols. “I feel it’s an unfunded mandate.”

The Board of Elections has not determined how much early voting might cost the county, but Mr. Nichols said he expected it to be significant, depending on how many polls were open and for what length of time.

He also questioned how safeguards to stop people from voting more than once would be implemented and noted that polling places would have to be prepared with multiple ballots to cover individual districts.

St. Lawrence County Democratic Commissioner Jennie H. Bacon said she likes the concept of early voting but isn’t sure a one-size-fits-all approach makes sense for the state.

“I definitely am not totally against early voting,” she said. “I think it would benefit many people.”

Commissioners in both counties mentioned that opening up absentee voting to everybody, rather than only those who cannot vote at an Election Day polling site, could be an alternative.

“We already have early voting, and it’s called absentee voting,” Mr. Nichols said. “It’s a lot cheaper and a lot more effective.”

Times staff writer Martha Ellen contributed to this report.

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