Last year was a first for New York: 61 early polling locations dotted the city, allowing the Empire State to catch up to most of the rest of the country when it comes to opening when and how voters can cast a ballot.
While 61 sounds like a lot, it just wasn’t enough for Eric Dinowitz. For the male Democratic district leader and city council hopeful, 100 locations in New York City alone sounded much more like it.
But he’s not the only New York politician with early voting access on the mind. In fact, it has the attention of state legislators, too.
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi introduced a bill last December she says would make early voting locations more readily available. Just not necessarily in the Bronx.
Instead, she wants any towns and cities with populations between 50,000 and 100,000 to have at least one early voting location within their borders.
The bill, S.6925, passed the senate Jan. 9, and is awaiting action in the Assembly.
When early voting was introduced to New York last year, there were 221 locations available to 7 million voters, outside New York City. That means each polling location — at least upstate — had to accommodate 32,000 voters. The law establishing early voting requires one early voting precinct for every 50,000 people. However, no county is required to have more than seven.
Because of that, metropolitan jurisdictions like Bronx County — where there are 726,000 voters, each early polling site would have to accommodate more than 100,000 people each if city elections boards stuck with just the minimums, as New York City’s primarily did last year.
Biaggi’s bill, however, isn’t addressing metro areas, but instead mid-sized towns and cities. And her bill looks more at overall population, not simply the number of registered voters who live there.
“The towns that couldn’t meet the 50,000 voter threshold did not get” an early voting location, said Maya Moskowitz, Biaggi’s press secretary. “This bill mandates they have at least one.”
There is a larger gap between total population and voter population than some might think, Moskowitz said. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 20 percent of New York residents are under 18. That is not an insignificant number when comparing a community’s total population to its registered voters.
Take the town of Union in Broome County, for example. With a population of about 53,000, nearly 20 percent of its residents are under 18. This means the highest possible population of registered voters is around 42,000. Under the current law and in the 2019 elections, Union didn’t get an early voting location.
But if Biaggi’s bill passes, it would.
Additionally, children could potentially impact voting access in other ways, Moskowitz added. Registered voters might prioritize taking care of their children above voting early, especially if they need to go out of their way to travel to an early voting location.
Outside of population, Biaggi’s bill is intended to require taking travel time into consideration when selecting early polling sites, as well as proximity to other polling locations, public transportation routes and commuter traffic patterns.
According to Biaggi’s office, this stipulation would make access to early voting locations easier for New Yorkers in less populated areas.
“When there isn’t an early voting location in your town, if you want to participate, you have to travel,” Moskowitz said. “You might have (public transportation) options in cities, but not in more rural areas.”
With the presidential primaries right around the corner, as well as the standard statewide primaries in June, the clock on early voting is ticking. But that hasn’t been enough to get the Assembly to take action, according to Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. Why? It seems the measure lacks a companion bill in the lower chamber.
However, Biaggi remains hopeful the bill can still pass in time for this year’s elections.
“The sooner we are able to pass the bill in both (chambers) and have the governor sign the legislation into law, the more time municipalities will have to effectively prepare for new early voting sites in the next state and federal elections,” Biaggi’s office said.
With some 1.4 million people, the Bronx is clearly outside of the jurisdiction of Biaggi’s sponsored bill. Last year, The Bronx had 11 early polling locations, with P.S. 207 on Godwin Terrace serving as the lone site locally. Other areas of the Bronx, such as Fordham, had two locations for early voting.
Jeffrey Dinowitz — the father of the city council candidate Eric — doesn’t have a personal stake in Biaggi’s bill as it doesn’t impact his district. However, he is generally in favor of a complication-free election process, including removing possible barriers to early voting.
“I support making it as easy as possible for people to cast their ballots,” the Assemblyman said.
For Biaggi, however, the bill will apply to Mount Vernon, a mid-sized town in her district, which has about 67,000 people. The town had one early voting location last year, at their city hall.
If signed by the governor, the bill will take effect immediately. And considering New York’s presidential primary is just two months away, time is definitely of the essence.
As the head of Community Board 8’s aging committee, the younger Dinowitz was a staunch proponent of more accessible voting options, including early voting. But now it’s likely even more important to him, as we will look for votes of his own this time next year.
“We need more options going forward,” Eric Dinowitz said. “Early voting makes voting more accessible for seniors, but (it) also makes voting more accessible for anyone else who needs more flexibility.”