Op-Ed | New Yorkers: Make your voting plan

Democrat vs republican poll, democratic decision and primary voting conceptual idea with Vote election campaign button badges and the united states of american flag
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By Laura Wood and Jarret Berg

Amid the ongoing uncertainty and hardship wrought by the raging COVID-19 pandemic, one bright spot where relief has kept pace with the public health emergency in New York is the progress made reducing longstanding barriers to voter access, by modernizing our elections and improving voter convenience.  

Although there are evolving headwinds to political participation, New York is providing voters safe and convenient options to make their voices heard at the ballot box. For those who have not cast a ballot since the midterm elections in 2018, there are now Three ways to vote in Election 2020 instead of the single Election Day, providing residents with flexible in-person and remote voting options to choose from in the coming days. 

Early VotingSaturday Oct. 24 – Nov. 1. Thanks to 2019 legislation that created a reasonable in-person early voting period, New York City will now offer residents an additional 64 hours to vote over nine days, including two weekends and evening hours on select weekdays. The early voting period runs from Sat. October 24 – Sun. November 1. During this time City voters may visit their assigned early voting location—one of eighty-eight being deployed around the City. Those that do will privately mark and scan their ballot just as they would on Election Day, minus the big crowds 

Casting a ballot during the early voting period allowNew Yorkers to maintain adequate social distance while voting. By spreading voters out over several days instead of one marathon voting day, early voting is one of the most prescient recent reforms, adopted before social distancing was understood to be a public health benefit. New Yorkers, always mindful to wear their masks, have the option to include voting early as they venture out for groceries or run errands. One more benefit: Early voters avoid USPS logistics entirely; there is no need to forage for stamps.  

Voting from Home: Request your ballot by Oct. 27. As New York’s COVID infectionsurged this past springGovernor Cuomo clarified in an Executive Order that a voter’s unavailability to appear in person due to “temporary illness”—one of the permissible reasons—includes “the prevalence and community spread of COVID-19” illness, including the potential for contraction. This summer, lawmakers codified this understanding, permitting any New Yorker to vote from home, but only if they request a ballot by the Oct. 27 deadline.  

For those considering voting from homeit’s easier than ever to do so. Thanks to a new law, anyone with internet access can request a mail ballot online in seconds by completing a simple online form. New Yorkers can also request a ballot by calling 1-866-VOTE-NYC (1-866-868-3692).  

Various due process safeguards have also been enacted to better protect our voting rights from several technical pitfallsCritically, City voters can now track ballot request and will be able to confirm that completed ballots have been timely received by the Board. voters who are skittish about returning a ballot through the mail or are short on stamps may drop off their signed, dated, and sealed ballot envelope without waiting in line, via any of the secure contactless drop boxes that will be located at the entrance of all early voting or election day poll sites, and all City Board of Elections offices. For those mailing in a completed ballot, although postage is requiredthe USPS agreed on Friday that it would to deliver election mail with insufficient postage, as part of a legal settlement. 

Despite recent error that resulted in large subset of Brooklyn absentee voters receiving incorrect oath envelopes, nobodys vote will be counted twice because envelopes with signatures belonging to an entirely different voter must be set aside. The real concern, however, is a risk of suppression among those impacted who might ignore the remedial (second) mailer if they believe they’ve already voted. Stakeholders are attempting to notify those affected. You can help by sharing this PSA. 

Vote on Election Day: Tuesday Nov. 3, 6 AM– 9 PM: New Yorkers are still welcome to wait for Election Daythe last opportunity to vote, when polls will be open from 6 AM to 9 PM, but now they have some really decent alternatives to avoid crowding at poll sitesBut we have to spread the word so New Yorkers can make informed voting plans.  

That is why the Mayor’s Democracy NYC Initiative, through an informal consortium of agencies including the Campaign Finance Board and voting rights groups have committed to educating voters about these changes through robust outreach in multiple languages directed at voters in the communities hardest hit by COVID-19, many of which also have historically lower participation. 

Many things about New York are necessarily different now, at least for the time being. But one series of long-overdue changes that need not sunset are the many improvements to voter access. 

Laura Wood is the Senior Advisor and General Counsel at the Mayor’s DemocracyNYC Initiative. Jarret Berg attorney and co-founder of the non-partisan VoteEarlyNY.