ALBANY – Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed into law changes to state election law that his office says will make it easier for New Yorkers to vote and be counted in November.
The three-part package includes new measures allowing absentee ballot applications to be submitted to the Board of Elections immediately, expanding the protections to allow a voter to get an absentee ballot due to risk or fear of illness – including COVID-19, and ensuring all absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day or received by the Board of Elections without a postmark on the day after the Election will be counted. Ballots with a postmark demonstrating that they were mailed on or before Election Day will be counted if received by November 10.
In a statement, the governor said the actions were necessary to combat what he said were recent attacks on the Postal Service at the national level.
“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,” Governor Cuomo said. “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.”
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Buffalo) also approved the changes.
“Voting access is one of the core foundations of our democracy. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that no New Yorkers feel pressured to put their health and well-being at risk to exercise their Constitutional right to vote. I thank the bill sponsors for advancing this legislation, and my Senate Democratic Majority colleagues for their ongoing commitment to empower New York voters and Governor Cuomo for signing these bills,” Stewart-Cousins said.
Local Senator George Borrello (R-Hanover) had spoken out against the changes earlier this week. In a media release sent out on Aug. 18, Borrello said that recent problems during the June primaries highlight the need for caution in making any permanent adjustments to the state election laws, as it pertains to absentee and mail-in voting.
“Last week, we heard directly from state, county and city elections commissioners that the directives from the Executive pertaining to the primary election fueled a massive expansion of absentee voting that overwhelmed the capacity of the system,” said Borrello. “Particularly in New York City, the results were disastrous, ranging from absentee ballots delivered to voters after Election Day, to weeks-long delays in counting votes and determining winners, to the invalidation of 23 percent of the ballots, disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters.”
“As we look ahead to the general election on November 3rd and the exponentially higher turnout of presidential election years, there is great concern that the voting process in New York could be even more chaotic than the primary if there is an attempt to enact eleventh-hour changes to the process,” Borrello added. “All of the election professionals that testified, without exception, stated that there simply isn’t enough time to successfully implement broad directives such as mailing all eligible voters absentee ballot applications. Even if the state had extra funds to accompany any such initiatives – which it doesn’t – our election infrastructure can’t be changed before November 3rd.”
Relating to Absentee Ballot Requests Due to Risk of Illness (S.8015-D/A.10833), the legislation gives voters the right to request an absentee ballot due to risk of illness to themselves or others.
Relating to Absentee Ballot Requests (S.8783A/A.10807), the legislation authorizes voters to request absentee ballots immediately, 30 days before Election Day, adding almost 7 weeks to the amount of time a voter has to vote by absentee ballot. This legislation eliminates an outdated statutory provision that prevents voters from requesting absentee ballots until 30 days before Election Day. The legislation gives voters reassurance that they will receive and can cast their vote in a timely manner.
Relating to Ballots Postmarked on Day of Election (S.8799A/A.10808-A), the legislation allows ballots to be postmarked on the day of the election, November 3. The legislation also amends election law to allow the Board of Elections to count all absentee ballots that have a time stamp showing it was delivered to the Board of Elections the day after the election but does not have a dated postmark. The Board of Elections shall deem those ballots mailed in a timely fashion.