Poll workers at the Yaphank Board of Elections recounting absentee...

Poll workers at the Yaphank Board of Elections recounting absentee ballots from the first Congressional district. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

ALBANY — New Yorkers looking to use absentee ballots to vote  rather than going to polling places during the COVID-19 outbreak need only fill out an application for a mail-in ballot, according to the state Board of Elections.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order temporarily suspends a portion of state election law. The order will allow voters to apply for absentee ballots because voting in person could make them susceptible to contracting the virus.

A voter must check the box on the existing application for “temporary illness or physical disability,” but will not be required to appear before election officials to obtain an absentee ballot.

Traditionally, voters could only vote by absentee ballots if they were sick or unavoidably away from home, such as for work. A ballot must be delivered to the local board of elections no later than the close of polls on Election Day or postmarked no later than the day before the election. The mailed ballot must be received by the local election board no later than seven days after Election Day.

The temporary order applies only through the June 23 election. That is the date of New York’s presidential primary and all federal, state and local special elections and primaries. 

Applications for absentee ballots can be obtained at local boards of elections in each county or downloaded from the state Board of Elections website. The applications must be mailed in no later than seven days before an election or one day before the election if the application is provided in person to county elections officials.

A letter may also be mailed to the local board of elections with the voter’s name, address, reason for the request (in the case of the June 23 elections cite the COVID-19 virus), and the voter’s signature. The letter must be mailed no sooner than 30 days before the election, but no later than seven days before the election.

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Absentee ballots will then be mailed to voters to complete and to mail back to their county board of elections.

“I really think the majority of people will elect to vote absentee,” said Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the state League of Women Voters that pushed for the expansion of absentee voting. She said traditionally only about 4 percent of voters choose absentee ballots, but the league’s Facebook page indicates great interest in the option this year.

Cuomo has said he had decided on allowing the expansion of absentee ballots after seeing thousands of voters in Wisconsin stand closely in line, few with protective gear, waiting to vote in the presidential primary that state had refused to postpone. Thousands of other voters in Wisconsin had stayed home.

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