By County Executive Ed Day
When I reviewed the proposed Governor’s Executive Budget, it included, among other items, an Early Voting initiative. Given the fact that some years back when this was last proposed, the proposed cost of implementation would have occupied approximately three quarters of the entirety of a 2% property tax increase, I certainly cast a jaundiced eye upon it.
My first step was to replicate my original actions from back then; request our bi-partisan County Board of Elections prepare a complete cost analysis for potential implementation of the proposed Early Voting initiative. With Rockland County’s population at 325,000, the proposal proscribes that seven (7) polling locations be established for twelve (12) days prior to Election Day, open for a specific number of hours each day.
This cost analysis shows that first year costs likely exceeding $1 million (startup cost of approximately three quarters of a million dollars and annual costs of $85,000 per election), not to mention a likelihood of significant, unanticipated additional costs. For Rockland, these costs alone occupy fully one half of the entirety of the current county property tax cap.
Early Voting would represent an approximate 25% increase in the County Board of Elections annual budget. In addition, each town’s share averages about 31%, which means not only will our County share of the budget be affected, but so would each and every town’s budget.
One would assume that the goal of these Election reforms would be designed to increase voter turnout. Yet research shows that early voting may actually decrease voter turnout at an added cost to tax payers. The Pew Research Center conducted an exhaustive assessment of Early Voting and among other things, stated quite clearly that “early voting appears to ‘lower the likelihood of turnout by three to four percentage points’ compared with the probability in 15 states that do not allow early voting or had not implemented other voting reforms.”
Simply put, the cost to recruit, hire and train staff is immense and doesn’t justify the expense of an initiative that evidence shows may be counterproductive to its intended purpose. And the argument that, in spite of the evidence, we should still follow the “lead” of so many states that have done so is totally illogical and a waste of taxpayer money.
To those who scoff at the evidence, I point out that we had an approximate 84,000 voter turnout in this past election – an increase of 13% (or 10,000 voters), a record local election turnout, without Early Voting. The reason for the massive turnout was an engaged citizenry voting on issues that mattered to them, and not an ability to stop by a polling place for any of the twelve days leading up to Election Day.
Much has been made of the Governor submitting a 2018-19 budget amendment that provided for $7 million for Early Voting. The seeming glee that accompanied that announcement ignores the fact that amount averages out to a paltry $112,900 per county if it is shared equally amongst the 62 counties. Clearly, the one-time infusion of State money has a negligible impact on our costs here and as is usual with the State, there is only a one-time funding stream with no indication of steady funding in support of this questionable scheme.
If we truly wish to take a simple yet significant step in support of increasing turnout, why not amend Election Law allowing for “No Cause” absentee balloting? The “cost” of implementing that would be minimal at best. It is beyond my understanding that all too often government looks to spend money first only to get burned later. One only need look at how the latest debacle we are experiencing – Cashless Tolls – has worked out to date. Millions of your money lost, and we are still without clear explanation as to what to expect going forward.
In short, this “Early Voting” initiative has no demonstrated merit, a cost that is unacceptable especially given a cost neutral alternative exists, and turnout has been quite robust of late without this expenditure. It is one more “spend first ask questions later” style initiative that again takes money out of the ultimate funder of government – our beleaguered taxpayer – and I find that unacceptable.
We in Rockland County have worked hard to stop the annual double-digit property taxation that was a routine before I assumed office as County Executive, and we now work to roll back those property taxes. However, that effort will remain difficult, if not impossible, as long as Albany continues to push unnecessary costs upon the counties.