NY Enacts Election Reforms, by Making It Easier To Obtain An Absentee Ballot


At the Brooklyn Museum for early voting, with poll workers sitting at the table with the absentee ballot box
At the Brooklyn Museum for early voting on October 24, 2020 ‘Look Whose Minding the Store

It will become a lot easier to obtain an absentee ballot in New York after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill package on Friday aimed at boosting voter participation.

The set of six bills allows registered voters to request an absentee ballot by letter or email instead of a signed application. Another bill will allow federal write-in ballots, military ballots, special presidential ballots and federal ballots to be postmarked up to Election Day for them to be counted in an election.

Cuomo said the bills will help “keep our democracy running.”

“Elections have enormous consequences for New Yorkers across the state,” Cuomo said in a statement. “And these reforms will bolster their ability to use their voices at the ballot box.”

The signing of these bills comes after absentee ballots were used more frequently during the pandemic. Ahead of the presidential election last year, Cuomo had issued an executive order allowing New Yorkers to receive an absentee ballot so long as they expressed fears of contracting COVID. Absentee ballots were critical in several election races across New York City this year, including those for mayor, comptroller, and a number of City Council races.

Most of these new laws take effect now, coming several months before New Yorkers once again go to the polls to elect a mayor in the November general election.

Other election reform bills signed by Cuomo mandate any local election board to post online any changes of assigned poll sites and increasing the number of voters assigned to a poll site. Another bill requires New Yorkers mail their absentee ballot applications 15 days before an election so it can be processed. Before, applications could be mailed a week before an election.

“With this bill we ensure voters can exercise their rights while giving our institutions enough time to process absentee ballot requests and deliver them in a timely fashion,” Assemblymember Al Taylor, representing Harlem, said in a statement.

Brooklyn state Senator Zellnor Myrie was the lead sponsor of the bill.

Another measure would allow losing primary candidates to have their name taken off the ballot in a general election even if a minor party nominates them.

“Up to now, candidates who lost a major primary literally had to die or move out of state in order to get off a minor party line on the ballot. This led to confusion and to workarounds that were bad for democracy,” state Senator Rachel May said in a statement. “Voters should be able to trust that the names on a ballot represent active candidates for election.”

While lawmakers hailed the passage of the bills, one voting rights group was skeptical of Myrie and Taylor’s legislation.

“As New York moves toward an election model where voters have the option to vote remotely, the State has an opportunity to adopt best practices and avoid needlessly overbroad restrictions and premature access cutoffs like the one proposed here,” the group, VoteEarlyNY, wrote in a letter obtained by the Daily News.