The idea of voting inside a polling place along with hundreds of other New Yorkers this November sounds a little risky.
As New York State works to keep infections down, indoor dining, gyms and large events are still not allowed because they're seen as "high-risk" for contracting COVID-19, so going to a polling site, waiting in line and touching equipment with thousands of people isn't exactly the most appealing.
But no worries, because this year, you'll be able to vote via a mail-in absentee ballot if you so desire (and want to avoid the crowds). Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new package of election reforms into law this week that allows New Yorkers to get an absentee ballot if there's a risk or fear of contracting COVID-19 (or any illness.) It'll also make it so the Board of Elections must count all ballots postmarked on or before Election Day and received within seven days after Election Day (that's November 10). Those ballots received on November 4 (the day after Election Day) without a postmark must also be counted.
You can request an absentee ballot right now, as a matter of fact.
Cuomo enacted these laws to make it easier for citizens to vote in this unprecedented time, when low voter turnout could influence the November election. He also called out the federal government for its "attack" on the U.S. Postal Service by refusing to fund it and removing mailboxes across the country.
"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 about the voting reform. "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."
More than ever, New Yorkers are requesting absentee ballots because of the pandemic, hoping to still do their civic duty but without the risk.
According to the New York Times, mail-in ballot requests for the June primary election overwhelmed the Board of Elections. Out of about 708,000 New Yorkers who requested one, 29,000 of them had not received a ballot three days before the election, the Times found.
By giving the Board of Elections time to send out absentee ballots for November's election, the hope is to avoid overwhelming the system, giving voters enough time to apply, receive ballots, send them back out and have them counted.
"The COVID-19 health crisis has transformed life as we know it, including how we vote," Assemblymember Al Taylor said. "This year we saw a tenfold increase in absentee ballot requests, with more people than ever choosing to vote by mail to protect the health of their families and community. With this new reality, we must ensure voters can exercise their rights in future elections both safely and efficiently, and that includes receiving absentee ballots in a timely fashion."
Here's what else you need to know leading up to November's election:
When is Election Day? Tuesday, November 3.
What's on the ballot?
- Queens Borough President
- State Senate
- State Assembly
- NYC Council District 37
- NYS Supreme Court
- NYC Civil Courts
When is early voting?
Early voting for the General Election runs from October 24 through November 1. You can find your early voting location here.
How else can I submit my absentee ballot?
If you don't want to mail in your ballot, you can drop it off at your poll site or your local Board of Elections office.
What is the Board of Elections doing to make polling sites safe?
The CDC is recommending that the BOE requires everyone to wear a mask and keep their distance. Surfaces should be cleaned between uses and shared objects like pens should be replaced with single-use objects. You can read more about that here.
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