State Legislature Passes Measures Making It Easier to Cast Absentee Ballots, Register To Vote

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

The New York State Assembly and Senate have passed measures that could make it easier for voters to cast absentee ballots as well as register to vote, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. announced this week. The legislation would still need to be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to be enacted.

One bill would allow voters, concerned about COVID-19, to use the pandemic as a reason to apply for an absentee ballot for the upcoming general election.

“I would expect the governor would sign that,” Mr. Thiele said, “because his executive order during the primary allowed voters to use the pandemic as an excuse” to obtain absentee ballots

In fact, during the Democratic primary, Governor Cuomo directed boards of election to send all voters registered as Democrats mail-in ballots, but Mr. Thiele said it remained to be seen if the governor would take that step for the general election.

Another measure would allow election boards to process absentee ballots earlier than 30 days before the election. Mr. Thiele said that allowing election boards more time to process what is expected to be a large number of absentee ballots cast in the November election would help them release results sooner. Another measure would allow election boards to count ballots that arrive the day after the election without a postmark. Currently, such ballots are automatically rejected.

A final measure would require an election board to reach out to a voter if the ballot had a technical defect, such as a voter failing to sign the envelope containing the ballot. The voter would be allowed to attest that the defect was an error, allowing the vote to be counted.

Mr. Thiele said it remained to be seen if the governor would approve that measure and if he did how election boards would address it. He suggested such a requirement might present a heavy lift for New York City election officials.

Mr. Thiele noted that the Democratically-controlled Assembly has passed most of the measures on an annual basis for the past 15 years, but that they were rejected by what for years was a Republican-controlled Senate.

Mr. Thiele said that New York is one of a handful of states that still require excuses for voters to obtain absentee ballots.

Another measure, making it easier for people to register to vote has also passed both houses, Mr. Thiele said. The measure would allow a number of state agencies to provide the New York State Board of Elections with voter registration information for people who submit applications for services.

The Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Health, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the Department of Labor, the Office of Vocational and Educational Services, city and county departments of social services, the New York City Housing Authority, and other agencies designated by the governor in the future would take part in the program.

The portion of each agency’s form pertaining to voter registration would list eligibility criteria for registering to vote and require that the applicant attest that they meet the criteria. It will also include a warning about penalties for those who are not eligible, but willfully register anyway. Those filling out forms will be able to decline registering by selecting a box on the voter registration part of the form. Voters would also be able to enroll in a political party and would be informed that they must do so to vote in a party’s primary election.

To date, 19 states and the District of Columbia have implemented automatic voter registration, Mr. Thiele said.