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New York

New York made commendable progress in expanding access to mail voting in 2020 and should seize the opportunity to continue this progress by codifying temporary reforms implemented in 2020. The State can continue to strengthen its election system by making no-excuse absentee voting, drop boxes, polling place drop off, and preprocessing permanent. Additionally, we suggest updating election data infrastructure, adding a permanent absentee voter list, and implementing improved statewide ballot tracking to increase voter convenience and confidence. As always, we stress that policy is important, but it is just as important that it is implemented well.

As of 2021....

No Excuse Required

No Excuse Required

No excuse to vote by mail

Online Mail Ballot Application

Online Mail Ballot Application

Apply for mail ballot online

Robust Ballot Return Option

Robust Ballot Return Option

U.S. mail, drop boxes, vote centers, and more

Prepaid Postage

Prepaid Postage

Postage-paid return envelopes provided

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Accepts ballots postmarked by Election Day

Ballot Tracking

Ballot Tracking

Online method to check ballot status

Signature Verification

Signature Verification

Voter signature verified before ballot is counted

Cure Process

Cure Process

Ability to correct issues so ballot can be counted

Preprocessing

Preprocessing

Election official may process ballot before Election Day

Opportunities

New York should continue its progress in expanding mail voting. By passing legislation to codify no-excuse absentee voting, the State can allow its citizens to vote in whichever manner they find most convenient. In addition, expanding the permanent absentee option to all residents, not just the permanently disabled, would save the state significant expenses by cutting down on the requests it needs to process.
New York can reduce costs and increase voter convenience by expanding its permanent absentee option, where voters can sign up to automatically be sent an absentee ballot for each election without having to re-apply, to all voters. Currently, only residents that are disabled or remote can sign up. States experience significant savings with these lists; on average, states save $1 for every request they no longer need to process.
Codifying the online portal for voters to request an absentee ballot created in 2020 into law would provide predictability for both voters and election officials that the system will continue to exist.
Guaranteeing prepaid postage is a voter-centric reform that simplifies the ballot return process and removes an economic barrier to the vote.
New York temporarily implemented drop boxes and polling place drop-off as a result of the pandemic; however, the State should make these return options permanent fixtures for all future elections. These options reduce strain on the postal system and are sometimes a preferred method by voters who want extra reassurance that their ballots will arrive on time. Further, creating vote centers that any voter in the county can vote at and allowing voters to drop off their absentee ballots at polling places would further lessen the reliance on the postal service and increase voter convenience and confidence.
Ballot tracking software such as Ballot Scout or BallotTrax can be a very cost-effective tool to improve New York’s current ballot tracking. An expanded notification system helps keep rejection rates low and increases voter confidence and participation.
Processing mail ballots to get them ready for counting before election day will help New York get faster election results. New York allowed preprocessing as a result of the pandemic; however, it could not implement it due to quirks in state law about voting in person after requesting a mail ballot. New York should correct those statutes to make preprocessing possible and make it permanent for all future elections.

Recent Legislation

As of July 26, 2021

Throughout its 2020 regular and special legislative sessions, the New York State Assembly passed several bills aimed at permanently expanding the accessibility and efficiency of its vote at home system. The Assembly passed two bills intended to implement best practices for the 2020 general election: A 10516/S 8130 authorized electronic absentee ballot applications for the 2020 general election and waived the requirement that these applications contain voters’ signatures and A 10833/S 8015 permitted voters at risk of contracting or spreading diseases, COVID-19 included, to vote at home in the 2020 general election and in all additional elections held before January 1st, 2022. S 8806/A 8280 required the State to implement automatic voter registration (AVR). 

Four additional bills extended various deadlines related to the vote-at-home system, including deadlines related to absentee ballot requests, canvassing, and ballot shipping. To reduce rejection rates, A 10808/S 8799 was passed to allow ballots received the day following an election without postmarks to be counted and A 10830/S 8370 created a cure process to allow voters to avoid rejection by remedying issues with their absentee ballots. There were also a variety of laws targeted at particular groups. A 219/S 3232 and A 7293/S 5184 expanded vote at home options for military voters and victims of domestic violence, while A 2599/S 1128 mandated that state institutions of higher education provide their students with a voter education website with access to absentee ballot applications. An additional 38 bills relating to voting reform were introduced, yet not passed, throughout 2020 spanned a wide range of pertinent reforms, from establishing no-excuse absentee voting to guaranteeing prepaid postage to upgrading the state’s online ballot-tracking system.

Governor Cuomo signed 11 executive orders about modifications to the vote-at-home system for the 2020 election cycle. EOs 202.2, 202.15, 202.47, and 202.58 allowed all voters to use the fear of COVID-19 as an acceptable excuse to obtain an absentee ballot for the April, June, July, and November elections. EOs 202.15, 202.58, and 202.61 authorized voters to request absentee ballots electronically, with no in-person signature requirement. EO 202.23 provided for mail-in ballot application forms for the June 23rd primary to be sent to all eligible voters; the forms included prepaid postage. Relatedly, EO 202.26 announced that all mail-in ballots for the June 23rd primary would also include prepaid postage. EO 202.26 declared that local elections scheduled for July 1st or earlier would be held entirely by mail. EOs 202.58 expanded the ballot cure period and EO 202.61 to establish a plan for facilitating the contactless delivery of mail-in ballots for the November election. Finally, EOs 202.2, 202.39, and 202.58 extended ballot application, receipt, and processing deadlines to account for the temporary expansion of at-home voting.

During its 2021 session, the legislature passed constitutional amendments to allow no-excuse mail voting permanently and same-day voter registration: their final step is to be voted on by the public in the 2021 general election. Additionally, the Legislature passed A 6475/S 5545, which allows all eligible residents to vote absentee in 2021 school board elections due to the fear of contracting or spreading an illness; it also passed two bills related to in-person early voting. Further, they passed A 6046 / S 6379 to make the new online absentee request system permanent, A 5783 / S 264 to amend timelines for absentee applications, and A 6047 / S 6429 to expand postmark acceptance for military and overseas voters.