New York State has a serious limitation on voting by mail. The State Constitution requires a ” cause ” to send in an absentee ballot by mail. If you don’t have a valid reason specified in law, you must show up in person to vote. You can apply for an absentee ballot, by showing up in person at your local Board of Elections, or you can apply for an absentee ballot by mail between the 13th and 7th day before the election. An amendment to the Constitution is winding its way through the Legislative process, and passed in 2019, but has to pass again in 2021 to be submitted to the people that year because two successively elected legislatures ( 2018 and 2020, in this case) have to vote for it before it can be submitted to the people. In the meantime, the Presidential primary is scheduled for April 28th, just a few weeks away, and the pandemic is upon us.
The State Legislature and the Governor should act swiftly to add the coronavirus public health emergency as a valid reason for a voter to get an absentee ballot, in time for the April 28th Presidential Primary. The current law on obtaining such a ballot, which requires an application by mail between the 13th and 7th day before the election, should be expanded to give voters more time to make the request.
In fact, it would be reasonable to postpone the April 28th Presidential primary to a later date. June 23rd is the scheduled date for the regular primaries, an obvious choice. Whatever date is chosen, at a minimum the State needs to address the turnout and participation problem through the absentee ballot change, plus more days of early voting, and act immediately regarding the Presidential primary if the April 28th date is not changed.
The elections subject to the expanded absentee ballot should go through the November election, or simply continued as long as the emergency exists. The Legislature should provide additional resources to the Boards of Election across the State to print and mail more absentee ballots.