hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial February-March 2024



N.Y. GOP flips the script on early vs. mail-in voting


Back in January 2019, when state legislators took up the question of whether to allow a lot more New Yorkers to vote by mail, the idea received overwhelming bipartisan support.
A proposal to amend the state constitution to allow “no excuse” absentee voting passed the state Senate by a vote of 56-5 and the Assembly by 136-9. The Yes votes included those of area Republican Sens. Betty Little and Jim Tedisco and GOP Assembly members Jake Ashby, Dan Stec, Christopher Tague and Mary Beth Walsh as well as Democrats Didi Barrett and Carrie Woerner.
But by June 2021, when the identical proposal came up for a vote in the next legislative session (as required before a constitutional amendment can be put to a statewide vote), the support was a lot less lopsided. The proposal passed the Senate by 43-20 and the Assembly by 115-34.
The No votes now included Tedisco and Stec (who by then had been elected to fill Little’s Senate seat), as well as Tague, Walsh and Matt Simpson, a Republican who replaced Stec in the Assembly. Among the local legislative delegation, Ashby was the only Republican to join Democrats Barrett and Woerner in supporting the legislation.
What changed between 2019 and 2021, of course, was that Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election and spent months loudly proclaiming, without any real evidence, that the dramatic expansion of mail-in voting in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic had something to do with it. Suddenly, for some Republicans, the question of how we cast ballots became a partisan issue.
It didn’t matter that state elections officials of both parties found no evidence the 2020 election was compromised in any way. (The Trump administration’s top cyber-security official reached the same conclusion before Trump fired him.)
And it didn’t matter that when Trump’s allies filed more than 60 legal challenges claiming voting irregularities, the courts tossed them all out for lack of evidence. Trump and some supporters have persisted in circulating allegations of fraud or malfeasance, and the idea that the 2020 election was somehow tainted has taken hold among a big chunk of GOP voters.
In November 2021, New York’s voters rejected the proposal to allow no-excuse absentee voting. Government reform groups that had long supported the idea assumed it would be popular and didn’t really campaign for it, while conservative groups organized against it – no doubt swayed in part by Trumpist misinformation.
And that brings us to the situation discussed in this month’s cover story, with U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik and other GOP leaders in New York encouraging more Republicans to cast their ballots at early in-person polling stations – while at the same time fighting in court against a new effort to expand voting by mail.
It’s a curious turnabout for the GOP. Back in January 2019, when legislative Republicans mostly backed the use of no-excuse absentee ballots, they were less enthusiastic about the simultaneous push to allow early in-person voting: All of the Republicans in the local legislative delegation exexcept Little voted against it.
One reason might be that in-person early voting is far more costly to administer, because it requires staffing polling places across nine days. And there’s no evidence that it boosts overall turnout.
Widespread voting by mail, in contrast, has been shown to be secure and convenient in Vermont, Massachusetts and many other states, and it does appear to increase voter participation. It deserves another look in New York.

February 2024 political cartoon



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