With virus cases still prevalent, Assemblyman wants to extend COVID exception for absentee ballots

The temporary law that that allows voters to use an absentee ballot for COVID-related reasons is expiring soon and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz is proposing an extension through February, 2024.

As the Jan. 1, 2022 sunset approaches, Dinowitz said his proposal to extend the absentee ballot eligibility is motivated by a “stubborn” COVID-19 pandemic that has still not been resolved after 20 months, as positive test results hover at thousands of new cases a day over the past three months. 

Hospitalization rates from COVID-19 also remain at levels approximately two or three times higher than when the first absentee ballot eligibility expansion was passed in July, 2021.

Lawmakers and the governor adopted regulations — also authored by Dinowitz — to allow more New Yorkers to vote via absentee ballot if they were concerned about contracting or spreading COVID-19 at polling places during the 2020 and 2021 elections. 

The original exception was designed to expire at the same time as a constitutional amendment to permanently authorize no-excuse absentee voting would have taken effect. However, that ballot proposal failed in a statewide referendum on November 2.

Dinowitz, D-Bronx, said this leaves voters who would prefer to cast their ballots from the safety of their own homes to weigh the importance of their health and their vote unless additional action is taken by the Legislature. 

The new bill from Assemblyman Dinowitz (A.8432) has seven co-sponsors and it would grant voters an additional two years of absentee ballot expanded eligibility, during which time the Legislature and voters determine whether they want to try again on a constitutional amendment related to absentee voting.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz

This new bill, introduced this week, would extend until February 1, 2024 the ability to vote by absentee ballot if a voter is concerned about voting in-person due to an epidemic or disease outbreak.

“The pandemic is still hospitalizing and killing New Yorkers on a daily basis,” said Dinowitz, who serves on the Assembly’s Election Law Committee. “Although we are taking dramatic strides in our vaccination efforts, the reality is that a stubborn minority of our fellow New Yorkers are refusing to get vaccinated and perpetuating the risk of contracting COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status. 

If the current COVID exception is allowed to sunset in January, New Yorkers can only use absentee ballots to vote if they are too sick to vote, disabled, or will be away from their district on the day of an election.

“My new legislation is a critical measure so that no New Yorker is forced to put their own health at risk simply to cast a ballot, and I urge my colleagues to support this important measure when we return to Albany in January.”