Politicians and their behind-the-scenes operatives are scrambling to meet new deadlines after the state opted to follow the federal election calendar for the first time.
Rather than designating petitions hitting the streets in early June, when the days are longer and the weather warmer, the onerous task began yesterday, Tuesday, Feb. 26, and are due no later than April 4.
Rather than in September, when party primaries were traditionally held, this year’s primary will be on June 25 while the general election is still the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November but voters will be able to cast a ballot at regional polling places nine days prior to Election Day, which this year is Nov. 5.
“Everything is condensed this year and we have to quickly do petitions and get those ready and it will be a challenge,” said Colonie Democratic Party Chairman George Penn. We have a great set of volunteers, so while it will be challenging they will be up to the task.”
“The accelerated calendar is going to cause a problem throughout the state,” said Colonie Republican Party Vice Chairman Timothy Lantz. “We have a good team here in Colonie, I hope the weather is nice but we are ready to get out and meet voters and get the job done.”
Basically, candidates can announce they are running on Facebook or even at a podium but the real nuts and bolts of getting on the ballot requires 5 percent of voters enrolled in a candidate’s party living in the district the candidate is running. In an effort to minimize the burden, the Legislature reduced the required number of signatures by 25 percent.
Lantz, though, said going door to door collecting signatures in March, as opposed to June, will have a more profound impact on upstate operations and volunteers since you can easily collect hundreds of signatures in one New York City high rise.
“I would say it is a disproportional disadvantage to upstate and upstate republicans where we hold more seats,” he said.
Certain rules must be followed and all signatures must be witnessed by a notary or an attorney and only the first signature counts. Once one party gets a voter to sign, that same voter cannot sign again for another candidate. Petitions are challenged every year and it is most often how candidates are thrown off the ballot and, less frequently, where voter fraud occurs.
“I think it’s a bunch of nonsense,” said Democratic Party Board of Elections Commissioner Matt Clyne. “There is no empirical data to say it increases turnout. Other states have done this and it doesn’t increase turnout. What it does do is make it more convenient for people who are already planning to vote.”
There are some advantages, he said, even if turnout is constant it will allow those numbers to be spread out rather than a horde of people converging on a polling place on one day.
Basically, there will be regional polling places, or at least one per 50,000 people. Clyne said in Albany County there will be about one per municipality with Colonie having two.
On paper it sounds simple, but Clyne said it opens up a can of worms in regards to the voting machines and other apparatus used at polling places and it will certainly cost counties money since all the polling places will need poll workers for nine days rather than just one.
There are not any set in stone numbers to the cost, but according to a rough estimate Clyne put together, it will cost the county $58,825 for inspectors, $11,700 for renting polling sites and about $1,300 to train the poll workers.
And that doesn’t include the bigger ticket items like electronic polling books to ensure people don’t vote more than once, and new polling machines that will print the ballot after it is electronically cast rather than scan the bubbles on the paper ballot as it is now.
The worry, Clyne said, is that right now an enrollment book and ballot can be unique to each of the 125 polling sites. For example there are 39 seat for the Albany County Legislature up for election this year, and different names will appear on different ballots depending on where the voter lives. With regional voting, it will be near impossible for the election workers to ensure each voter gets the ballot that is applicable to where he or she lives.
Obviously, that is accomplished in a much more expedient and efficient manner by having machines that can produce a ballot on demand when the voter punches in a name and then spit out a paper ballot to ensure there is a hard copy trail in case something doesn’t go right with the machines.
The tentative plan is get enough machines that will produce a ballot on demand to accommodate the regional polling places, see how they function and then go from there, Clyne said. To purchase the current machines that read ballots cost the county $3.1 million in 2008. Indications are the ballot on demand machines are likely double that amount.
“It’s a pretty expensive endeavor and there are efforts to lobby the state now for funding,” Clyne said. “The early voting legislation didn’t come with any funding, but they are working on it and my guess is there will be some kind of funding mechanism in place.
“There are a lot of things that have to be ironed out in a short amount of time. This is the maiden voyage of early voting in this state and we will have to wait and see how it plays out, see what glitches present themselves and we will make adjustments.”