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NY voters get new ballot drop-off options, including at early-voting sites

File photo, a box of absentee ballots wait

File photo, a box of absentee ballots wait to be counted at the Albany County Board of Elections in Albany, N.Y. on June 30, 2020. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — New York won’t have actual drop boxes for ballots. But it's seeking to create something similar by allowing voters to bring their completed absentee ballots to county election boards now, or to early voting sites beginning Oct. 24.

The initiative is part of a new plan by the New York State Board of Elections to give voters in all counties statewide more options to cast ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board last week also unveiled a new website where voters can apply online for ballots and learn how to return them.

Meanwhile, Suffolk County has announced plans to increase its number of early voting sites — though the Town of Shelter Island this year won't have one.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo emphasized the drop-off option Tuesday at his coronavirus briefing.

“You can drop off your completed ballot at your local county board of elections office now or at any early voting site in your county” between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1, Cuomo said. “This is our way of developing a drop box system.”

Later on Twitter, Cuomo said: “I’m signing an executive order allowing absentee ballots to be returned to drop boxes without a wait at 300+ locations statewide.”

State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) has proposed legislation to require county election boards to provide drop boxes — much like the blue metal postal drop boxes found in neighborhoods. Hoylman says using a drop box is a way to avoid possible delays in ballots getting to election boards by mail.

Cuomo didn’t address Hoylman’s proposal directly, but said his own proposal has the “same purpose and effect.”

The Democratic governor explained: “You drop it off at a location where it's secure some will actually have a box. Some will take it from you in person, but it is in effect a drop box system.”

Hoylman endorsed the state drop-off plan, but said New York still needs to provide actual boxes at many more locations than just the local election board.

"Given the crisis in our mail system and the health concerns with in-person voting, we must do more," Hoylman wrote on Twitter.

In Suffolk, voters can drop their absentee ballots off at the elections office in Yaphank on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or at any early voting or general election polling sites during operating hours, Democratic Suffolk elections Commissioner Anita Katz said last week.

Voters also can have friends or relatives drop the ballots off for them, and the person dropping them off at polling sites does not need to vote there to do so.

In the June primary, about 3,000 ballots were thrown out in Suffolk, primarily because they weren’t sent on time, Katz said.

There will be 12 early voting sites in Suffolk this year — one each in East Hampton, Southampton, Southold, Riverhead, Smithtown and Babylon. Huntington, Brookhaven and Islip Towns will have two sites each.

Election officials said they lacked funds for a separate Shelter Island site, and chose to put resources into more populous towns.

Registered voters can cast ballots in any town in their county. 

Several county legislators said they were concerned that Shelter Island voters will have to take a ferry and travel up to 90 minutes round trip to vote in the nearest polling locations.

“As a matter of equity, they’re their own township and they’re physically isolated. It’s a real disincentive,” said Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue).

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