COVID-19 has changed the voting process this year. Commissioners on the Nassau and Suffolk Board of Elections share the latest and answer your questions.

Patience, please, voters.

Neither Nassau nor Suffolk counties will begin counting paper ballots until seven days after Election Day, officials said Thursday.

In a Newsday webinar about voting amid the pandemic, Long Island election officials said they understand the desire for speedy results, but accuracy is more important. The high volume of absentee ballots will mean adjusting expectations for results.

"It’s very unlikely we are going to be able to declare winners on Election Night," Suffolk County Republican Elections Commissioner Nick LaLota said. "I want to caution voters on what expectation to have on Election Night."

In the seminar, LaLota and Nassau County Democratic Commissioner James P. Scheuerman addressed viewers’ questions about absentee voting, deadlines, postage and election security.

They also said anyone who wants to vote in person but is concerned about crowds should consider voting on one of the weekdays during the early voting period, which begins Oct. 24.

The election commissioners were online to field nearly an hour's worth of questions from viewers and a Newsday panel.

Among the highlights:

  • Counties are expecting about 33% of the vote to come from absentee ballots. That’s a far greater percentage than in elections held before the coronavirus pandemic emerged.
  • Neither county will begin counting paper ballots until seven days after Election Day. They want enough time to review ballots for any discrepancies or duplications. "I understand that speed is a desire. But accuracy is our mission," LaLota said. It's a message local and state election officials around the nation are trying to spread just weeks before millions of voters cast ballots for president, Congress and a slew of local offices.
  • Once they begin, tallying should proceed more quickly than in the past. Each county has purchased high-speed scanners and hired extra staff to process votes.
  • Nearly all the absentee ballots coming in are filled out correctly, demonstrating that voters, many who might be voting absentee for the first time, are paying attention to details.
  • The most common ballot errors — not dating the document or signing the oath — are correctable. The election boards are looking for these types of errors when ballots arrive and attempting to contact voters to fix oversights. But don’t write anything "identifiable" on your absentee ballot, such as email address or telephone number. Those could get your ballot disqualified.
  • New York doesn’t have a "no excuse" absentee ballot. Residents must check a box indicating the reason for voting absentee — the big change this year is fear of contracting the virus qualifies as a "temporary illness," which is one of the acceptable reasons.
  • Voters can go to any early voting site in his/her home county to vote. The on-site computer system will be able to look up the voter’s district and print out the appropriate ballot, which will be fed into a scanner.
  • If a person mails in a ballot, then decides to vote in person anyway, only the in-person ballot will count.

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