Syracuse.com: NY needs a faster, more efficient way to settle elections (Editorial)

Originally published in Syracuse.com on November 20, 2020.

Election Day was nearly three weeks ago, and in New York we are still counting votes.

Georgia has counted all its votes. Twice.

That’s right. Georgia did it, then did it again. Yet we are still on the first round, with hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots to go. New York is among the last states to still be counting. Key races still hang in the balance.

This is not something unique to 2020. In New York, this happens every year. Reporter Teri Weaver forecast these problems in an October story explaining how we got here.

The state sets no start date for counting absentee ballots; it only tells counties that they must wait a minimum of three days after the election before they can begin. That time is used to check for voters casting duplicate ballots across the state.

Some counties started on that day, Nov. 6. Others waited weeks. The latest to start counting absentee ballots was Wayne County. There, they didn’t begin the absentee tally until Nov. 16.

In several hotly contested races, the public is still waiting and will be until next month.

Onondaga County began counting its absentee ballots Nov. 9 but had to stop after a coronavirus outbreak among board of elections workers. The deciding ballots of the state Senate race between Angi Renna and John Mannion wait to be counted.

This system is misguided: 62 counties making 62 choices about when they will count. The dysfunction had been on display this year because record-setting numbers of people chose to vote by absentee. But it has been faulty all along.

It looks like we don’t take voting or democracy seriously enough to get on the same page. What if New York had been a swing state in the presidential race? We would be a national laughingstock.

There should be one date on which everyone is required to start counting, and it should be election night.

A proposed state law would fix some of this. Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, wrote legislation that would allow boards of election to begin counting three hours before the polls close. We support this, but it should go one step more.

All counties should be required to start counting votes on election night. To be clear, this patchwork system is not the result of any kind of laziness on the part of elections workers. They, too, are victims of the dysfunction.

Imagine if everyone had begun counting the absentees on election night this year? Instead of watching vote counts in tight races dribble in for weeks, we would know who won. In races that straddle several counties, it would end the frustration of knowing who won in one county while waiting weeks for results in another. And it would speed up the needless, political challenges from the parties that drag down the count.

Protecting each vote is of the utmost importance. These changes would do nothing to diminish that. New York lawmakers need to cut the wait that makes a mockery of the process for both voters and candidates. Many other states can do this. New York can, too.