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Local Elections Officials Gear Up For Sweeping Changes In New York's Voting Laws

ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) - Local elections officials say it's a bit overwhelming to consider all the changes that have to take place to implement New York's new voting laws.

"It's kind of like you're thrilled,” said elections commissioner Tom Ferrarese, “but you always have that 'Oh my goodness, let's see how we're going to implement this?' "

A measure passed by the state legislature this week will allow early voting up to 10 days before an election.  The legislation is still awaiting the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who supports the idea.

The bill passed despite the objections of some Republicans, who questioned the need and the cost.

Ferrarese says funding is a critical part of the process of implementing the necessary changes. He and others hope state lawmakers will find a way to at least help counties cover part of any costs they incur.

"I think there will be a continued push in that direction,” Ferrarese said, “and certainly there will be issues raised if there isn't some funding. It's also going to be about the value people put on the voting process."

If all goes as expected, polling sites would be set up across Monroe County to accommodate early voting in time for the next general election in November, according to Ferrarese.

If state lawmakers okay the use of electronic poll books and on-demand ballot machines, he says the process will be more streamlined and voters will be able to cast their ballots at any of the locations rather than having to go to their specific regional polling place.

On-demand ballot machines, according to Ferrarese, would prevent errors like over-voting or a missed vote in a particular race. Voters would start by keying in their choices on an electronic screen.

"It doesn't cast a vote at that point; it actually creates a ballot. It hands them the ballot and they can then review the ballot and if there's something wrong with it they can, like today, go get another one (up to three times.) But that ballot is only cast when they walk over to the scanner and stick it in."

The new technology is one area in which savings could be realized, Ferrarese said. Elections workers spend three to four weeks after elections manually scanning signatures on poll books to update the history of each voter. In addition, he said hundreds of thousands of pages are printed for the registration books that voters sign when they first enter their polling place. Those printing costs would be eliminated if electronic poll books were used.

Ferrarese expects early voting to be popular right away in New York.

"We’re not going to see the same slow start other states did because people just didn't know about it or understand it,” he said. “People have read about it now for a number of years and have seen it in other states. Frankly, coming to New York State finally, I think we're going to have a number of people who want to use it."

Other measures would allow New Yorkers to cast an absentee ballot for any reason, and to register to vote on Election Day, but those changes require passage by two consecutive state legislatures, so the earliest they could be enacted is 2021.