Cuomo issues executive order for optional postage-paid absentee ballots

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zoe Thacker

In response to New York’s continued stay-at-home order to decelerate the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to send postage-paid absentee ballots to all registered voters as an alternative to voting at the polls in June.

On Monday, the state Board of Elections made the decision to remove all Democratic candidates except Joe Biden from the Democratic Primary ballot, resulting in the cancellation of New York state’s Democratic Presidential Primary, which had been rescheduled to June. 

A coalition of voter advocacy groups warned his initial suggestion of 100 percent vote-by-mail could disenfranchise voters. A complete shift to a vote-by-mail system would require millions of ballots to be mailed out to voters before election day – a deadline just less than two months away. 

Common Cause New York, the Chinese-American Planning Council, the Center for Law and Social Justice and The Center for Independence of Disabled New Yorkers are among the groups that asked Cuomo to reconsider.

“A successful voting system is about making sure voters have multiple ways of returning it [the ballot], as well as in-person options to vote in the event they don’t receive a ballot, need assistance or simply want to vote in person,” Susan Lerner, the executive director of New York Common Cause.

The fear was that a quick shift in voting systems would have left behind disabled citizens, those living away from their mailing addresses during quarantine and non-English speakers with little or no options. 

In addition, many individuals from minority communities do not have a physical mailbox to receive the mailed ballots.

“The reality is that this virus has ravaged our community,” Lurie Favors, General Counsel at the Center for Law and Social Justice, said. “In particular, communities of African descent are among the highest groups, representing the highest numbers of people who are calling victims to this virus.”

Accessible options for those requiring language assistance, large print or braille would have gone unsettled. In other full vote-by-mail states, individuals with accessibility concerns have the option of in-person voting, an option Cuomo discussed for New York State residents. 

While the advocacy groups hope to see a shift to a vote-by-mail model in a few years, Lerner mentioned “right now in the middle of a pandemic New Yorkers do not need to be experimenting with a complete overhaul of our elections against the advice of all experts.” 

“You have both options,” Cuomo explained. “You can go to the polls or you can vote absentee. I don’t know what else anyone could expect you to do.”

Cuomo also issued an executive order cancelling four special elections for vacancies in the state Legislature. The vacancies include a Syracuse-area Senate seat and three Assembly seats in Long Island, Rochester and Queens. The cancellation includes an election for the Queens borough president as well. 

Whether the method of voting in the general election in November will be affected is still in question.