Letter to the Editor: COVID-19 and Absentee Voting

Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order to move the New York Presidential Primary from April to June 23, 2020 is very welcome news at a time when so much news is worrisome or worse. Thank you, Governor Cuomo!

June 23 will be a big day for voters. In addition to the presidential contest, nominees for Congress and the New York Legislature will also be selected. Everyone eligible must find a way to vote that will allow them to stay safe while the public health crisis continues, even if the peak of Covid 19 has passed.

New York already has an absentee ballot system in place. Voters can apply for an absentee ballot by visiting https://citizenparticipation.westchestergov.com/voting/absentee-ballots. Requesting an absentee ballot requires a voter to choose an acceptable excuse from a list on the form. Unfortunately, a public health emergency is not included as a valid reason for requesting an absentee ballot.

The New York Legislature could modify the absentee ballot system to specifically address the present crisis by expanding the list of excuses to include a public health crisis excuse option. Even then it will be a huge challenge for voters who must initiate the request, and for local Boards of Elections which will face vastly increased mail and ballot processing difficulties.

State Senator Biaggi has proposed a bill to add a “public health emergency” excuse to the absentee ballot request form. Her bill, and a companion bill in the Assembly, must be passed soon if the system is to be ready in time for June 23.

Passing any such emergency legislation would require the legislature to be in session. Our legislators  are as subject to Covid 19 as the rest of us. They should not have to be in the close contact of the Senate and the Assembly chambers in Albany. A way must be found for them to be “present” virtually for discussion and voting during this health crisis. This alone is a big change in our state government, but necessary.

Elections during this crisis are not the only work the legislature needs to accomplish before mid June, but elections are essential to maintaining our democracy. The session must not be ended before the legislature has enacted a way for voters to participate safely in the June 23 primary election.

Catherine Ray
Ossining, NY

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About the Author: Catherine Ray