New York is making it easier for voters to request absentee ballots and allowing mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be considered timely.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a host of voting-related bills into law Friday that supporters say will expand and ease the use of absentee ballots in the Empire State by eliminating signed applications and allowing voters to request ballots via email.
The changes build on reforms enacted as the state saw a massive increase in the use of absentee ballots during the COVID-19 crisis.
“This sweeping, comprehensive package of legislation will make it easier for voters, candidates and boards of elections to perform their critical functions and keep our democracy running,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Elections have enormous consequences for New Yorkers across the state, and these reforms will bolster their ability to use their voices at the ballot box.”
The centerpiece of the package brings the last day a ballot can be postmarked into line with the deadline for hand-delivered ballots and allows absentee ballots to be requested by letter rather than a signed absentee ballot application.
It also provides that federal write-in absentee ballots, military ballots, special presidential ballots and special federal ballots received after Election Day must contain a postmark, cancellation mark or witness dated Election Day or earlier.
“At a time when voting rights are under attack in other states, New York is doing the right thing by making it easier to vote, not harder,” said Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat. “I am grateful the legislature passed my bill with Assemblymember Bichotte Hermelyn to ensure more valid votes are counted and am pleased it is being signed into law today.”
Other measures in the package include a new law allowing candidates who have lost primaries to be removed from ballots as candidates for different parties and another increasing election district registrant enrollment from 1,150 to 2,000.
Another new law changes the deadlines for the mailing of absentee ballot applications, ensuring they’re in line with United States Postal Service guidelines for the timely delivery of mail.
Mailed applications for absentee ballots must be received by an election board no later than 15 days before the day of an election.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done to improve voter participation and access to the ballot here in New York, but there’s more work that remains,” said Democratic Sen. Zellnor Myrie. “These new laws will serve the interests of voters and our democracy, and contribute to our ongoing effort to defend and expand voting rights.”
Some advocates pushed back on the bill, arguing it will significantly curtail access to ballots for eligible voters who can’t appear in person by rolling back the request deadline.
Previously, New York allowed requests made online or by mail seven days before an election. Opponents argue the new rule is restrictive since it disqualifies requests if they are received by boards less than 15 days before an election.
“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 opposing the law.
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