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Policy Report Democracy & Voting Rights

Analysis of New York State’s Absentee Ballot Laws and Process and the Immediate Need for Absentee Ballot Reform

Posted → Aug 13th, 2020

With the rise in COVID-19, New York’s election laws need to improve their absentee ballot process in order to ensure that there is no voter disenfranchisement.

Pattern

Overview:

It is important to ensure that the voters of New York are able to vote effectively and safely, especially due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Andrew Cuomo had issued temporary accommodations for the June 23, 2020 election. Although they were helpful for the June 23 election, the temporary accommodations have now expired and it is essential to implement policies and procedures that will be beneficial to New York voters. As the November 3, 2020 election approaches these policies and procedures are essential to provide safe and fair voting. 

The New York 2020 primary elections had voters requesting absentee ballots at record numbers. What we learned from this primary was that around one in every four absentee ballots were rejected in the area of Queens. Meanwhile, the only three majority-white districts had the first, second, and fourth lowest absentee ballot rejection rates. It is apparent that there is a difference in voter outreach when you look at how the two communities voted by mail. The New York primary also had polling locations opening late due to transportation, there was an absence of healthy poll workers, a shortage in postage-paid envelopes for absentee ballot applications, and a surge for mail ballots. All which contributed to voting issues in the primary. Therefore, it is important for an effective infrastructure to be in place so that elections, despite a global pandemic, can still be an effective and safe process. 

Overall, New York’s election laws for absentee ballots need to be improved so that all eligible voters are able to have their ballots counted and to ensure voter safety. Some important recommendations would be for New York to continue to ensure eligible voters are able to cast their absentee ballots for health reasons arising from COVID-19. To give voters the ability to apply electronically or by the phone and provide postage-paid absentee ballot applications. Also, to provide postage-paid return envelopes for absentee ballots. Furthermore, New York should change their postmark requirement received within seven days of the election, no matter if they have a postmark. Have a standard for reviewing absentee ballots and reduce the rejection rates and have a curing period after rejection. Lastly, adopting the New York Voting Rights Act (NYVRA), which requires for pre-clearance of polling sites and changes to election procedures. COVID-19 has presented many difficult challenges to our democracy and it is essential that we overcome any obstacles that come our way. In implementing these policy recommendations it serves as a step for New York’s election to be conducted in a safe and fair manner.

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