Cuomo Signs Bills Expanding Absentee Voting in New York

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) signed a trio of legislation dealing with election reforms, aimed at correcting the myriad of problems it saw during its botched primary two months ago, in order to avoid the same problems but on a massive scale come November.

“I just signed legislation to guarantee that New Yorkers can vote safely & that EVERY vote counts,” Cuomo tweeted.

In signing the bills, Cuomo cited the ongoing USPS crisis caused by Trump administration’s operational changes in disrupting mail delivery operations as reason in expanding absentee voting.

“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 in a statement. “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 bill expands the permitted reasons criteria for New Yorkers to request an absentee ballot due to COVID-19 risks or fears of contracting the virus. Under New York election law, voters could only vote absentee with an approved “excuse” as to why they are unable to vote in person on Election Day.

The second measure allows voters to request absentee ballots immediately, giving voters more time to request an absentee ballot and submit it before November 3. Previous law prevents one to request an absentee ballot until 30 days before Election Day. 

The final measure mandates absentee ballots to be postmarked the day of the election in order to be counted, so long as they received by the local Board of Elections within a week after the election. This means that ballots postmarked on November 3 would be counted, as long as the election office receives it by November 10.

The legislation is similar to Cuomo Executive Order he issued in April for the June primary. Under the order, the New York Governor instructed the election board to automatically send out to all active voters an absentee ballot application for one to fill out to receive the ballot by mail. This time around for the general election, a voter must request an absentee ballot application that can be conducted either online, by phone, or in-person.

Last month, the Democratic-controlled state legislature approved all three measures after New York became an epicenter of a botched primary and its disastrous handling of mail-in ballot voting. The uptick in mail-in votes led to myriad problems and postal delays that resulted in a portion of voters not receiving their ballot until after the June 23 primary.

Over 80,000 ballots were ultimately rejected by election officials most due to the postmarked issue. In New York City, more than 403,000 ballots were returned to election officials prior to the prior to primary election day, but only 319,000 were offically counted, according to certified results.

Postmarked absentee ballots became an issue in June’s 12th Congressional Democratic primary race between Rep. Carolyn Maloney and progressive activist Suraj Patel. A post office snafu prevented almost 12,000 mailed ballots from being postmarked, causing those ballots to be considered invalid to count, along with disqualified minor errors caused by the voter.

Patel launched a lawsuit against Cuomo and New York City Board of Elections in which a federal judge ruled to reinstated an unknown number of absentee ballots on grounds that despite not being postmarked it was received two days after the June 23 primary.

Maloney led Patel by 648 with in-person votes prior to the judge ruling. Once the unknown amount of reinstated ballots were canvased by the Board of Election, Maloney lead grew by up to 3,300. The Board declared Maloney the official winner that same day.

New York City residents have now three options to cast their votes for the general election — voting by an absentee ballot, early in-person voting (which is scheduled to begin in mid-October), or voting on Nov. 3 in-person.

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