ALBANY — Election officials across New York's 62 counties on Tuesday formally asked lawmakers to move the state’s presidential primary and other special elections from April 28 to June 23, saying the coronavirus pandemic makes sticking to the earlier date “dangerous” and all but "impossible."
“Fielding inspectors in the midst of this health crisis is dangerous and may be impossible,” the bipartisan Election Commissioners Association of New York State said in a statement Tuesday.
“Traditional polling places may be unusable as they are currently restricted or closed to the public. Postponing until June will not only give us time to plan, but will ease the burdens on host counties' budgets that are devastated by the COVID-19 crisis.”
Legislative leaders said they are open to the proposal. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration hasn’t considered it yet, an aide said. The association doesn't represent the state Board of Elections but rather commissioners and staff in New York's 62 county election boards.
At least eight other states have postponed elections and primaries this spring. That includes Maryland and Connecticut, two states that also had intended to hold primaries on April 28.
In New York, along with the primary, a slew of village elections and special elections to fill vacancies are slated for April. That includes a state Assembly race in Suffolk County.
Besides dates, New York lawmakers also are wrestling with the idea of invoking emergency powers to greatly expand absentee voting during the crisis. A Catskills senator proposed a bill Tuesday to do just that. The Cuomo administration said it’s studying the issue.
Moving the elections slated for April would align them with the previously scheduled June 23 congressional and legislative primaries.
The county election commissioners also requested authority to consolidate polling locations and election districts, citing a likely reduction in access and polling inspectors.
“We’re not opposed to it, but we still have to talk to members,” Mike Murphy, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), said.
A leading Republican strongly backed postponement.
“Pushing these elections to a later date would allow for a more orderly and reliable process, to a time when, hopefully, our citizens are out of harm's way,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) said.
Cuomo previously moved village elections, scheduled for March 18, to April 28.
Election watchdog groups acknowledged the primary is a lower priority than the public health crisis, but said lawmakers need to decide soon because local boards need about a month to prepare and hire poll workers, among other issues. Advocates favor postponement.
“I’m sure they are taking triage in chronological order and I’m sure April 28 seems like a long way away,” Susan Lerner, state director of Common Cause, said. “But people are planning for April 28 now. … If the primary isn’t consolidated, boards need to know about it now.”
Lerner said the state isn’t prepared to switch entirely to a vote-by-mail system — because, in part, that would require county election boards proactively mailing printed ballots to every registered voter.
Expanding absentee voting — in which the burden is on the voter to request a ballot — is a better “stop gap” solution, she said.