In his proposed budget for the coming year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York must at long last bring its elections into the 21st century by, among other things, joining the large majority of states that permit early voting.
He’s right. Mr. Cuomo, however, has so far set aside no state funds to carry out this change, which means New York’s 62 counties would have to pick up the tab. This is regrettable. But it’s also fixable. To show he means business in this matter, the governor has until Thursday to add the necessary money before he hits a deadline in this stage of the budget process.
We’re not talking about vast amounts of cash. Quite the contrary. Some officials have estimated it would cost as little as $6.4 million to enable New Yorkers to vote across a stretch of days instead of solely on Election Day, Nov. 6 this year. With a budget weighing in at $168 billion, the state spends at a rate of about $320,000 a minute. Early voting would thus be a mere 20-minute expense.
If this burden is foisted on the counties, some might wheeze under the strain. Localities in New York have long complained, justifiably, about a pattern of “unfunded mandates” — requirements that come from Albany without so much as a nickel to make them happen. If ever there was an issue of statewide concern, and fiscal obligation, voting is it.
Mr. Cuomo’s aides argue that keeping money out of the discussion is a sensible tactic at this point. Don’t let hand-wringing over dollars, no matter how few, get in the way of the principle of electoral reform, they say. But a counterargument can be made that covering the cost now in his budget would demonstrate that the governor is dead serious about this issue.
There’s no guarantee that the Legislature will go along with any request for change, which in Mr. Cuomo’s formulation would also permit automatic voter registration, Election Day registration, and absentee voting without having to offer an excuse. These ideas have died in the past in Albany, typically at the hands of Republicans, who control the State Senate and worry that anything that enhances voter turnout could work to their disadvantage.