COVID-19 Outbreak Spurs Calls for Consolidated NY Primaries, Easier Access to Absentee Ballots

Mar 25, 2020

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Onondaga County’s board of elections is among a growing movement across the state to postpone next month’s Presidential Primary until the June Congressional Primary due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Election Commissioner’s Association, State Attorney General, Common Cause, and others are pushing for the delay. 

In a release, Onondaga County Democratic Elections Comissioner Dustin Czarny says voters shouldn't have to choose between risking their health an exercising their right to participate in our democracy.

"Delaying the election will protect the voters' rights, the safety of election workers, and buy us precious time to prepare to administer this election amongst the current health crisis."

Republican Elections Commissioner Michele Sardo shared those sentiments. 

"During the health crisis that we are faced with today, I feel the health risks well supersede the necessity to hold these elections at this time.  The right to vote is what keeps our democracy strong, but we need to consider the health of our voters and our employees," Sardo said in a release.

The commissioners also want to move the scheduled special election for NYS Senate District 50 to June 23rd, or cancel it altogether.  There's also a push to make it easier for New Yorkers to request an absentee ballot.  Susan Lerner with Common Cause says the health of voters should be the main concern.

"First and foremost, we need to make absentee ballots much more readily available in terms of making it clear if you're afraid of getting sick or making someone else sick, that's a valid reason to vote absentee."

Lerner says in general, New York’s overly strict rules for obtaining an absentee ballot need to be relaxed and expanded.  Boards of elections also want more flexibility in securing poll sites and workers for the June 23rd primary.  Lerner says New York should also strongly consider adding a vote-by-mail option.  But she says the state is far from ready to do it quickly; it would have to be done carefully to ensure minimal voter disenfranchisement.  Lerner doesn’t believe the 58 boards of elections have properly maintained the accuracy of their voter rolls.

"For example, in 2016, thousands of active Democratic voters were improperly moved to inactive status.  In a vote-by-mail system, inactive voters just don't receive a mailed ballot.  If New York hastily institutes a vote-by-mail system, hundreds of thousands New Yorkers may never receive a ballot."

Before that moves forward, boards of elections are awaiting action from the legislature and governor on consolidating the primaries.  They say a decision is needed soon…early voting for the April 28th primary begins the 18th, and elections commissioners will need to start hiring and assigning poll workers within a week.