Unlike what some might falsely suggest, under federal law, the states control the elections — and in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Thursday three new laws that provide voters with greater flexibility on casting their ballots this November — and assurance that they will be counted.
Concerns about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on voting prompted state lawmakers to introduce reforms making it easier for voters to request absentee ballots and ensure that they are included in the final vote tallies.
After passing the State Legislature weeks ago, on Aug. 20, Cuomo signed into law the legislative package which relaxes absentee ballot rules so voters may request them due to risk of illness; enables voters to request absentee ballots immediately, beginning today; and validates all ballots postmarked up to and including Election Day, Nov. 3, for the final vote count.
Part of Cuomo’s motivation for approving the legislation is the ongoing crisis at the United States Postal Service, in which mailboxes and sorting machines have been removed in recent weeks. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who had ordered the removals, has since said he would forego those measures until after the election.
The removals occurred around the same time that President Trump said during a Fox News interview that slowing the USPS’ operations would ensure that mail-in ballots across the country would not be counted in time for the election. He has since attempted to walk those comments back.
Trump, despite his prior remarks about fraud in mailed voting (without providing evidence), is nonetheless voting by absentee mailed ballot himself.
“The federal administration has ordered an unprecedented attack on the U.S. Postal Service and with COVID-19 threatening our ability to have safe, in-person voting, these measures are critical to ensuring a successful and fair election at one of the most important moments in our nation’s history,” Cuomo said Thursday. “These actions will further break down barriers to democracy and will make it easier for all New Yorkers to exercise their right to vote this November.”
The first voting reform legislation that Cuomo signed, sponsored by Bronx state Senator Alessandra Biaggi, gives all New York voters the right to request an absentee ballot due to the risk of illness to themselves or others. This qualification had not been part of previous considerations for absentee ballots, but was waived earlier this year by a Cuomo executive order in advance of the June 23 primary.
The second bill, sponsored by Brooklyn state Senator Zellnor Myrie and Manhattan Assemblyman Al Taylor, clears the way for voters to request absentee ballots now, removing the regulation that absentee ballots could only be requested up until 30 days before Election Day. This gives New Yorkers up to seven weeks more to request, accept, fill out and return their ballots.
According to the city’s Campaign Finance Bureau, absentee ballots will be sent to those who request them beginning on Sept. 18.
Finally, the third new law, sponsored by Queens state Senator Michael Gianaris and Brooklyn Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, permits the Board of Elections to count all absentee ballots postmarked on the day of the election. It also allows the board to count absentee ballots that have a time stamp showing that it was delivered to the board the day after the election, but without a dated postmark.
Postmarking, or lack thereof, became an issue in counting the votes during the June 23 12th Congressional District primary between Manhattan/Queens/Brooklyn Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and activist Suraj Patel.
A post office snafu prevented hundreds of mailed ballots from being postmarked, and the New York City Board of Elections initially refused to count them. That led to a court case in which a judge eventually allowed the ballots to be counted.
New York City residents have now several options to cast their votes for Nov. 3: absentee ballot voting by mail, in-person early voting (which is scheduled to begin in mid-October), or in-person voting on Election Day. The Board of Elections, however, does not yet have on its site a list of early voting sites.
For those choosing to vote in-person, they can expect to find extra safety precautions in place — from social distance markings to masked poll workers and hand sanitizer. All voters will be required to wear a mask at their polling place.