Early voting worth it as long as it’s secure

Early voting’s New York’s debut ended Sunday. It lasted nine days, and next year it’s expected to be three times that long.

Is it worthwhile? That was our web poll question this past week. For us, as for many readers, that question gave much food for thought.

We absolutely agree with the intent of early voting, which is to increase voter turnout. Some people may question this goal, but we believe that the people’s decisions stand stronger when more of the people are involved in making them. In many elections we see 70% of registered voters sit on the sidelines (plus all those who aren’t even registered). That’s a sign that the people’s will to govern themselves is weak. It suggests they might be open to other systems of government such as communism or dictatorship, in which powerful leaders relieve regular folks of the burden of having to make decisions.

New York typically has lower election turnout than many states, so it has plenty of room for improvement. One of the many reasons people don’t vote is that it’s hard to break away from their work or other responsibilities on that one Election Day. Early voting gives them a bigger window of opportunity. Many other states have it.

Another reason, which we don’t really see up here in the North Country, is that in big cities the lineups at the polls can be brutal — hours long in some cases. Many voters aren’t willing or able to put up with that, and therefore don’t vote. Early voting helps solve that problem, too.

So it’s good in theory, but what about in practice?

Here in the Tri-Lakes area, people have to drive roughly an hour to vote early: in Malone in Franklin County or Lewis in Essex County. That is very inconvenient, so it stands to reason that early voting hasn’t made much of an impact on people here this year. That would certainly change if they put early voting stations in places such as Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake.

Security is also a very big concern. The system has to prevent people from voting early and then coming back and voting again. It has to prevent anyone from having access to the early voting results, potentially giving one side an unfair advantage. And it has to prevent anyone from hacking into the computer system and either discovering or, worse, changing the results.

Many people are worried about cheating, so the system has to not only be secure enough to prevent it but extra-secure to assure people of all parties that elections are fair and safe.

Early voting does present a few security concerns, but we have questioned county election commissioners about it and trust that they take those concerns very seriously. That’s the main reason they limited early voting to one site per county this year. With one site they can better keep tabs on who has voted all in one place, and keep results secure on a computer that’s not connected to the internet. They have the potential to add sites in secure ways, but this year they’re playing it safe. We support that caution.

So overall, yes, we think the pros of early voting outweigh the cons. But its time has passed for this year. For the majority of registered voters, tomorrow is the big day. All polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Please do your duty and vote. This is your voice, your chance to decide, and your community needs you to use it. Show that people’s will for self-government is on the rise in our area.