New York will allow voters to request absentee ballots for the general election because of the coronavirus pandemic under a new state law signed Thursday.
New Yorkers can now vote absentee in any election through Jan. 1, 2022, over concern about voting in-person during the pandemic.
For weeks, Democrats had called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the legislation, which the Democratic-led Legislature passed in late July.
Voters were allowed to vote by absentee ballots in the June primary because of virus concerns.
Voters in New York can start requesting absentee ballots immediately under another bill Cuomo signed.
New York’s new legislation comes amid growing concerns about mailing delays and other issues that have plagued vote-by-mail elections.
Election officials are expecting an even bigger flood of mail-in votes in November than for the June primary, after which results were delayed for six weeks.
Election officers processed 1.8 million requests for absentee ballots in a primary that saw nearly 40 percent of votes cast by absentee ballot — a monumental sum in a state whose absentee voting system involves fewer than 1 in 10 voters in typical elections.
Some lawmakers have proposed reducing reliance on the mail by allowing drop boxes outside the usual confines of voting sites and local election offices.
But State Board of Elections spokesperson John Conklin said it’s “unlikely” New York has time to buy enough drop boxes to widely expand their use for November.
Unlike New York, 34 states allow residents to vote absentee without citing a specific excuse, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
New York state lawmakers who want to allow no-excuse voting would have to pass a proposed state constitutional amendment to send it to voters for ratification.
Some states, including Missouri and Massachusetts, have already expanded absentee voting this year, while similar legislation is pending in Connecticut.
As of early Thursday afternoon, Cuomo had not signed a bill to notify voters of issues with their absentee ballots and allow voters to fix them. Some state election officials have warned the measure will fuel more delays.
It’s unclear how the state and Postal Service will fix several issues with mail-in voting ahead of the November election.
Earlier this year, Cuomo announced the state would mail applications for absentee ballots with prepaid postage to all registered voters. His office didn’t immediately respond Thursday when asked whether he’ll do so for November as well.
Another new state law Cuomo signed Thursday would let election officials count a ballot even if it wasn’t postmarked, at long as it arrived by the day after Election Day.
Still, lawmakers haven’t addressed the fate of ballots without a postmark that arrived several days after the June primary, and whether the state will accept such ballots in November.
Meanwhile, state and local election commissioners are calling on New York to prevent delays and give poll workers more time and funding to prepare.
The Postal Service asked New York on July 30 to require voters to request a ballot at least 15 days before the Nov. 3 election, up from seven days currently. Cuomo and lawmakers haven’t indicated whether they’ll do so.
The Postal Service didn’t respond to a request for comment.
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