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Package Of NYS Election Reforms Addresses Getting And Counting Absentee Ballots

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Scott Willis
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WAER News

Many of the ways ballot access was expanded in the 2020 election could make their way into permanent state law.  The New York Senate approved a package of bills that would address getting – and counting – absentee ballots.  Senator Rachel May says all the measures try to get more people involved.

"The problem is our elections are decided by too few people.  Anything that makes it easier for people to vote is a good thing so we know what the will of the people is.  Several states have mail only voting, and they have some of the highest voter participation rates."

Some of the bills make absentee ballots easier to obtain by requiring no excuse for getting one, and putting the application online.  Another would improve transparency and tracking of ballots … which works in other states that rely entirely on mail-in voting.

"The rate of fraud is so low it's more likely you'll be struck by lighting standing wherever you are than fraud will happen in an election.  A lot of barriers are put up based on misconceptions about fraud."

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Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
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WAER News
One of the large rooms where 57,000 absentee ballots wee reviewed and counted.

May adds a bill expanding the use of lockboxes would help people cast their ballots if they don’t trust the postal system or if mail time was a factor.  Still another bill would speed up the counting of absentee ballots.  Having statewide rules for counting would aid in reducing confusion among boards of elections.

"They do need to be uniform.  That was the jist of some of the legislation that we passed to create systems or how absentee ballots are supposed to be treated...which ones get opened when, that sort of thing,  so there are set of clear guidelines."

She recognizes one problem with many of these changes is the burden it would put on boards of elections.

"They need more funding.  We've heard that a lot from them.  If we were to shift to all mail-in voting as some states do, that's actually cheaper because you don't need all the poll workers and all of that."

May is also looking beyond this package of reforms, such as having portable early-voting stations that might set up in a mall or college campus.  Many of the measures passed by the State Senate have companion bills in the Assembly. 

The bills included in the package are:

  • Speeding Up the Absentee Ballot Counting Process: This bill, S.1027, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Senator Michael Gianaris, amends various provisions of the Election Law in order to allow for expedited review and canvassing of absentee ballots without compromising the integrity of elections.
  • Preventing Disenfranchisement of Absentee Voters: This bill, S.253, sponsored by Senate Elections Committee Chair, Senator Zellnor Myrie, prohibits voiding absentee ballots on technicalities where intent of voters is clear and the law has been substantially complied with, including where there are stray marks or the ballot is undated but is time stamped by the Board of Elections.
  • Permanently Authorizing Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes: This bill, S.492, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman, authorizes the Board of Elections to establish absentee ballot drop-off locations or drop-boxes to provide voters with a convenient and secure option for delivering their absentee ballots.
  • Increasing Transparency and Information about Absentee Ballots through a Tracking System: This bill, S.1028, sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie, ensures that all voters in the state have access to absentee ballot tracking by requiring the New York State Board of Elections to create a statewide absentee ballot tracking system for absentee voters ensure that their vote is counted in the election while allowing counties and the New York City Board of Elections to also maintain their own absentee tracking systems.
  • Implementing Permanent Authorization for Applying for Absentee Ballots Online: This bill, S.632, sponsored by Senator Robert Jackson, permanently allows voters to apply for absentee ballots online and allows absentee ballots postmarked through Election Day by making permanent Chapter 91 of the Laws of 2020, which sunset on December 31, 2020. Under current Election Law, applications may only be made by mail or fax.
  • Creating Accountability for Timely Receipt of Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.516, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, establishes a mandatory timeframes for processing of absentee ballot applications and ballots by Boards of Elections based on when the application was received.
  • Enabling Earlier Applications for Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.631, sponsored by Senator Julia Salazar, permits Boards of Elections to receive absentee ballot applications earlier than thirty days before the applicable Election Day by making permanent Chapter 138 of the Laws of 2020, which sunset on December 31, 2020.
  • No-Excuse Absentee Voting Constitutional Amendment: This legislation, S.360, sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie, amends the State Constitution to allow for any voter to vote by absentee without an excuse.
  • Ensuring Voters Timely Receipt of Absentee Ballots: This bill, S.264, sponsored by Senator Zellnor Myrie, sets deadline for absentee ballot applications sent by mail to 15 days before the election, up from 7 days, to better allow for voters timely receiving their absentee ballots.