An absentee ballot from 2020.

An absentee ballot from 2020. Credit: AP/Sipa USA/TJ Roth

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul will soon consider whether to allow far more voting by mail in New York through a measure that would end a key requirement for how voters use mail-in ballots.

The New York Early Mail Voter Act would allow registered voters to request ballots through their local board of elections. Under the system, ballots could be mailed weeks before an election but must be postmarked by the time the polls close on Election Day to be counted. Several days are allowed for the mail to be received.

Hochul hasn’t said whether she will sign the bill into law.

Voters rejected a similar measure in a 2021 referendum on mail-in voting that has so far been used more by Democratic voters and independent voters not enrolled in a party. In 2021, Republicans mounted a well-financed campaign to defeat the measure. The GOP effort argued that the measure would be susceptible to fraud, although no widespread fraud has been evident. The referendum was required to amend the state Constitution to allow voting by mail by all voters without an excuse such as illness.

Democrats this year created a “unique process” in election law, rather than try to change the constitutional requirements. The Democratic majorities of the Senate and Assembly passed the measure June 9.

Republicans have several concerns.

“Albany Democrats continue to ignore the will of New York residents, who overwhelmingly rejected a similar ballot amendment in 2021,” said Senate Republican leader Rob Ortt of North Tonawanda. “This state has already made it very easy for New Yorkers to cast a ballot without early mail-in voting that will undoubtedly overwhelm local boards of elections and put the integrity of the process at risk.”

The measure also comes after recent election cycles in which Republicans unseated some Democrats in local elections and mounted a surprisingly strong challenge in November to Hochul, who leads the Democratic Party.

Supporters, however, say the measure will be used by hundreds of thousands of voters and would be a landmark change in helping to improve New York’s long record of low-turnout elections.

“Allowing New Yorkers to vote by mail increases voter turnout in harder to reach populations, including young people and voters of color,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause-NY. “We know vote by mail works: New York did it successfully in 2020 when faced with the COVID-19 pandemic … not only is this absolutely legal under our Constitution, but the right thing to do.”

Mail-in voting has been popular with voters since 2020, when the traditional absentee voting process was expanded to include voters concerned about catching and spreading the COVID-19 virus at crowded poll sites. Then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo first allowed it in an emergency executive order and then the State Legislature passed it into law. The result was hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers choosing to vote by absentee ballots. But that law expired Dec. 31.

The new legislation would create a permanent system. Unlike absentee voting that has long provided mail-in ballots to voters who are ill or away from their county on Election Day, no reason or excuse would be necessary to mail in votes under the new measure.

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