Casting a vote from home in the Empire State just became easier: On Tuesday, New York State officially unveiled an online absentee ballot request portal, streamlining the process for mail-in voting.
Not only will the measure simplify the application process, it also expands the approved excuses for voting via absentee in light of COVID-19 concerns.
In past elections, voters had to acquire a ballot by mailing an application to their county board of elections. The new portal allows voters to apply for an absentee ballot through a New York .gov website, marking the first year this option will be available. Now, email, phone and fax requests are all possible, in addition to the online and in-person options.
Students can face an array of obstacles in trying to vote on Election Day: Access to transportation to their polling location, time off from classes or work and resources about the candidates. The new website knocks down at least one of those barriers, easing an application process that previously often required access to a printer and stamps.
“As the November election approaches, we know that many voters feel vulnerable in the midst of this pandemic,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday.
On Aug. 24, Cuomo also signed an executive order intended to support the accessibility of voting in New York — which included concrete steps to better inform voters and ensure absentee ballots can be used in all elections — ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
“This election is going to be one of the most critical in modern history. It will be controversial,” Cuomo said during the signing. “You already hear the statements questioning the vote, and the accuracy of the vote, and mail-in ballots. We want to make sure that every vote is counted; every voice is heard and that it’s fair and right and accurate.”
The standards required to qualify for an absentee ballot in New York were also lowered under a state law signed on Thursday, significantly expanding the accessibility of mail-in voting. New York voters historically had to provide one of several specific excuses — such as being absent from one’s county on Election Day. This year, simply expressing COVID-19 concern is considered a valid reason. This exemption was first introduced for the New York primary election and is now extended for the general election.
October 27 is the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot in New York, seven days before the election. However, the United States Postal Service has advised that it cannot guarantee timely delivery of ballots requested fewer than 15 days before the election. Thus, voters are recommended to send in their application as early as possible because ballots will start mailing beginning on Sept. 18.
The post office recommends that voters mailing their ballots send them sooner rather than later, to allow for processing time. New York State will allow some space; ballots postmarked by Election Day Nov. 3 and received by Nov. 10 will be included in the final tallies.