The first year of early voting in New York State seems to have resonated with local voters, as over 1,400 people took advantage of the extra days to submit their votes according to the Tompkins County Board of Elections.
Among the 1,408 Tompkins County voters, 987 were registered Democrats, 213 were registered Republicans, 165 were unaffiliated, with the rest being members of the myriad smaller parties in the state. Two polling places had been set up to receive voters, at the Ithaca Town Hall in downtown Ithaca and the Crash Fire Rescue Building near Lansing on Brown Road. They received 728 and 680 voters respectively.
BOE Democratic Commissioner Steve DeWitt said he was impressed by the turnout and how quickly early voting has caught on with local voters. The early voting period lasted from Oct. 26 until Nov. 3, giving people time to vote outside of the normal single-day period. DeWitt said people particularly took advantage of the extra time during the final weekend of availability, from Nov. 1 to Nov. 3, when the BOE received 400 voters.
Early voting was implemented this year for the first time by Governor Andrew Cuomo. It’s long been touted as a way to allow more people to register their votes, particularly those who have burdensome work schedules or face other hurdles to getting to the polls during the previously allotted one day, especially if they’re unfamiliar with the absentee ballot process.
The 1,408 figure could represent a significant amount of the total voting turnout this year. In 2017, a similar off-year in terms of federal elections but still with local seats up for grabs, 20,813 voters flocked to the polls on election day. That’s a relatively high number compared to other elections held in similar off-years, with 12,938 total voter turnout in 2015 and 18,243 total in 2013. Judging by those turnout numbers, the 1,408 could mean between 6-11 percent of total voters using early voting.
Despite predicting even higher participation next year, when there’s a presidential election which generally brings much higher voter participation, DeWitt said he doesn’t think that the county will set up more polling places beyond the two that serviced Tompkins County voters this year.
“My guess is not, but we haven’t finalized those decisions,” DeWitt said. “It’s considerable time and effort and expense to create each early voting site, and when you look at the population of the county, the southern and western towns are more sparsely populated than the northern and eastern towns.”
That was one reason why the CFR building worked so well, he said, as it gave voters outside of Ithaca a more convenient place to register their vote instead of having to trek into downtown Ithaca.
“The feedback we got is that people were really pleased with the experience, I don’t recall any negative feedback,” DeWitt said.