As we head into the month of September, Election Day begins to become clearer in focus. Without question, the 2020 elections will have a completely different look and feel. Sweeping changes have been made to New York’s electoral process through legislation and executive order, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic voting will shift dramatically from in-person to submitting paper ballots.
Last week, the governor signed a package of election bills with provisions that:
allow any voter to request an absentee ballot if they have concerns over COVID-19;
add approximately seven weeks to the amount of time a voter is allowed to cast an absentee ballot;
require elections officials to count all ballots postmarked on or before Election Day (Nov. 3), and received seven days after Election Day; and
require local boards of elections to accept ballots that do not have a postmark, but have a time stamp indicating they were delivered on the day after the election.
Fortunately, New York’s COVID-19 numbers continue to move in the right direction. The virus is subsiding and in-person voting rightfully remains an option. Concerns over public health and safety must be identified and addressed before November’s elections arrive and the process must be conducted in the safest manner possible. All New Yorkers must be given the opportunity to cast their votes without putting their health at risk.
However, so many dramatic changes and new requirements in such a condensed timeframe bring a number of new concerns to the upcoming elections. Such a widespread expansion of the criteria needed to receive an absentee ballot opens the door to potential problems.
For one, there is a genuine concern that not every vote will be counted. In the overwhelming majority of elections, ballots that are received by mail are rejected at a much higher rate than ballots that are cast in person. For the state primary election on June 23, New York City rejected more than 20 percent of the ballots cast by absentee voting — an alarmingly high number. The city’s Board of Elections reported that of roughly 403,000 absentee ballots cast, more than 84,000 were thrown out due to technical issues.
June’s Democratic primary, which resulted in 1 of 5 New Yorkers having their votes rejected, with ballots still being counted a more than a month after the election, and with a lawsuit filed by candidates and voters against Gov. Cuomo and State BOE, does not instill a great deal of confidence about what might happen in November.
In addition, municipalities and local boards are simply not built to handle the expected influx of paper ballots this fall. None of what’s now being required in New York has been done here before, and we are on a path that will almost certainly overwhelm a system that already faces a great deal of pressure. It’s estimated that approximately five million paper ballots will be cast in the general election, which is four times the amount seen in the June primary.
State election officials recently testified that it will take $50 million to run November’s election and effectively account for the COVID-driven changes. Naturally, that funding has not been allocated by the state. It’s commonplace for Albany to set new rules that increase expenses, administrative burdens and staffing pressures without providing the necessary resources to handle them. Regrettably, November’s elections are facing the same challenge – and it is likely a recipe for disaster.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, can be reached by mail at 200 N 2nd St., Fulton, New York 13069, by email at email@example.com and at Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay on Facebook or on Twitter at @WillABarclay.