(EDITOR'S NOTE: Dan Clark is with NY NOW)
Voters in New York will be allowed to vote entirely by mail in June, when the state’s primary elections for president, members of Congress, and state legislative races are scheduled, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
It’s an option that Cuomo and his top aides have considered in recent weeks as the number of individuals infected with COVID-19 in New York has continued to grow.
While there’s evidence to suggest the disease could be less severe in New York by the election, scheduled for June 23, Cuomo said he didn’t want voters to forego casting a ballot if they didn’t feel comfortable visiting a polling place.
“I’ve seen lines of people on television voting in other states. This is totally nonsensical,” Cuomo said. “God bless them for having such diligence for their civic duty that they would go stand on a line to vote, but people shouldn’t have to make that choice.”
Voters will still have the option to cast their ballot at a polling place, Cuomo said, but absentee ballots will be made available for anyone who wants to vote by mail. Details on deadlines and how to obtain a ballot were expected in a forthcoming executive order.
There’s also a possibility that polling places will be closed for the election, but Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s top aide, said they’re still waiting to make that decision. Data in recent days has suggested the disease may be faltering in the face of aggressive social distancing.
“We’re saying the temporary illness provision of absentee voting will include the risk of contracting COVID-19,” DeRosa said. “I think we’re going to take a wait and see approach as we get closer on whether or not any polls should be open.”
Common Cause of New York, a good government group that’s urged easier voter participation amid the pandemic, cheered Cuomo’s decision in a tweet Wednesday, but said the Legislature should provide wider access in statute.
“This is a great start, however, New York cannot be ruled by executive order alone,” the group tweeted. “New York lawmakers must continue to hold a remote session to pass legislation that will protect New York voters forever.”
It’s unclear, as of now, if COVID-19 will largely subside in New York before the June elections, but the current trend appears to be headed in the right direction.
The number of hospitalizations, on average, were down again on Wednesday for the fifth consecutive day, according to state data. Cuomo said the pattern is evidence that the state may have avoided its previous projections for the disease, but that it’s still too early to tell.
“It is flattening the curve and we see that again so far,” Cuomo said. “If we continue doing what we’re doing, then we believe the curve will continue to flatten. But, it’s not a time to get complacent.”
New York, for the second day in a row, saw its largest single-day death toll from the disease Wednesday, with 779 fatalities reported overnight. The total number of deaths is now 6,268.
Cuomo has said the high number of deaths corresponds to a previous spike in hospitalizations, and that the number may increase again before it starts to fall. As of Wednesday, 149,316 people had tested positive for the disease in New York.