As the window opens on Saturday for the opportunity to start casting ballots in person, many voters find themselves wondering about the process.
The Press asked readers for questions, and then we discussed them with Suffolk County Board of Election staff.
Q: If I’m voting early, is there something I have to bring with me? ID? Should I go armed with info regarding what election district I’m in?
You do not need to know your election district, other than to determine where your polling place is. If you do not know, go to voterlookup.elections.ny.gov, or call the Suffolk BOE at 631-852-4500.
You are only required to show ID if you did not present identification or a Social Security number when you registered and this is the first time you have voted since registering. Otherwise, your signature matching the one on file will suffice to confirm your identity at the polling place.
Q: My daughter is at college out of state and registered to vote absentee in New York. It’s now October 16, and she has not yet received her ballot in her mailbox. At what date does this become a problem? Is it possible to request that a second absentee ballot be sent? What date does she have to have her ballot postmarked by? Is a provisional ballot available if she doesn’t receive it by a day or two before November 3?
First off, you can always call the Board of Elections, 631-852-4500, and they can tell you the exact date your ballot was mailed to you. And if you think you should have received it, you can request a replacement be sent.
Your ballot must simply be postmarked by November 3.
A provisional ballot is called an affidavit in New York, and they are only used at polling places.
Q: Is it too late to request an absentee/mail ballot?
Applications can be put in the mail up until October 27 — though waiting that long may test the abilities of the post office to get your application to the BOE and get a ballot back to you in time to mail it back by Election Day (more on this below). You can apply for your ballot at the BOE offices in Yaphank up until November 2 and can receive your ballot in about 20 minutes. Or you can apply online at absenteeballot.elections.ny.gov and you should receive a ballot within three or four days.
Q: When will my absentee ballot arrive?
The Suffolk BOE has already mailed out some 180,000 ballots it received applications for and has gotten about 40,000 back. Usually, it is a three-to-five-day return from when they receive your application. The U.S. Postal Service has issued an official advisory that it cannot guarantee that a ballot will be received by the voter less than 14 days from when the application was mailed.
Q: When must my absentee ballot be mailed to be counted?
It must be postmarked by November 3. Period. If you are mailing it on Election Day, the BOE suggests taking it to the post office yourself and making sure it receives a postmark stamp that day (though that very rarely doesn’t happen).
Q: Where should I take my absentee/mail ballot if I don’t trust the mail? Can I take it to the early voting places, or to the polling place on Election Day?
You can take a ballot to the Board of Elections office in Yaphank on Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and it will be cast for you immediately.
Or you can take it to a polling place. If you do that, you do not have to wait in line — you may walk straight to the polling station. However, that is only if you are dropping off completed ballots. If you are coming to cast your vote in person and are bringing someone else’s absentee ballot to be submitted, you still have to wait in line.
Q: If I requested an absentee/mail ballot, can I change my mind and vote in person, either on Election Day or early?
Yes. You may vote in person on Election Day even if you already cast an absentee ballot — but your absentee ballot will then be thrown out and only the vote you cast on Election Day will be counted. This is why the BOE doesn’t count absentee ballots until after Election Day: so they can cross-reference the mailed-in ballots with turnout at the polling places and cancel out redundancies.
Q: What are my various options for voting? Is there a difference in how it’s tallied?
Absentee, early voting and on Election Day. They are all tallied the same way — it’s just a matter of when.
Ballots cast on Election Day or in-person during early voting are tallied at 9 p.m. on Election Day. Absentees are counted after that, and could take several days, or potentially weeks, to be tallied.
So vote in person if you are comfortable doing so.
Q: What are the rules regarding “poll watchers”? Are unauthorized people allowed to observe at the polling stations?
A poll watcher is a person who is designated by a campaign, party or registered organization supporting a ballot initiative. Those individuals have a special certificate issued by the BOE that allows no more than one person per organization to observe the process. At no time are they allowed to “electioneer” or invade a voter’s privacy. They are only there to ensure that the election is being operated fairly. They cannot inhibit the election process.
Q: If I’m harassed or intimidated at a polling place, what are my options?
You should notify the polling place coordinator, who is a BOE official. The coordinator will determine whether the person is acting in an intimidating way and what action should be taken. There are BOE staff traveling with Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office deputies visiting polling sites throughout the day on Election Day and during early voting to ensure that no improper electioneering is taking place.
There is a law barring electioneering 100 feet from the door to the polling place. That means no signs and no attempting to influence how someone votes in any way. It’s intended to be neutral place — you are there to vote, and that’s it. The campaign ends at the 100-foot line.
Q: Is there a way to track my ballot to assure that it’s been processed?
As of late this week, you will be able to call the BOE at 631-852-4500 and ask the status of your ballot by name.
If the BOE has already received your ballot, they will have opened the outer envelope and inspected the exterior of the ballot envelope itself, where your signature should be. A new law put into place in New York this summer allows that if they identify a problem, like a missing signature or the ballot envelope not being sealed, they may have already mailed you a special affirmation letter by which you can “cure” whatever the problem is and have your ballot counted.
Again, the longer you wait to mail back an absentee ballot, the more likely that any problems will not be able to be addressed before the deadline.
Q: I’ve heard that in this contentious, stressed-out, sensitive climate that when going to the polls you should not wear any kind of clothing, hat, COVID mask, etc., that has anything remotely political on it, or you will be turned away and not allowed to vote. True or false?
False. While poll workers and designated observers may not wear campaign-related garb, there is no restriction on what a voter wears, provided they are not actively trying to influence the vote of anyone else at the polling place inside of the 100-foot neutral space.
You may not, however, bring alcoholic beverages to a polling place. That’s an actual law.
Q: Can I take photos or video of myself filling out a ballot?
No! People should not take selfies. It is expressly illegal to do so.
The reason is to protect people from being threatened and told to vote a certain way. If someone was being compelled by someone else to vote for a given candidate, and the person making them do it wants proof, they could demand they take a photo.