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NY to allow all to ask for absentee ballots for primary because of virus

A poll worker opens an absentee ballot.

A poll worker opens an absentee ballot.  Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

ALBANY — Because of the coronavirus, New York will allow anyone who wants an absentee ballot for the June primary to obtain one, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday.

Cuomo, a Democrat, cited videos of Wisconsin residents standing six feet or so apart, in long lines for lengthy periods to vote Tuesday, after a court refused to allow the state’s primary to be delayed.

Good government groups and New York legislators had been urging Cuomo to allow any state resident to use an absentee ballot, citing the impact of the virus and social distancing measures.

The governor said he’d soon issue an executive order to that effect.

"New Yorkers shouldn’t have to choose between their health and their civic duty,” Cuomo said.

The state is slated to hold its Democratic presidential primary in June, even though Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign Wednesday, leaving the nomination to former Vice President Joe Biden. But it’s not the only contest that day: a congressional vacancy, several state legislative vacancies and other local races will be decided.

Cuomo said he hasn’t decided whether to close polls altogether — which would essentially switch everything to absentee voting — but will take a wait-and-see approach on whether that’s necessary.

As of now, Cuomo said: “Absentee voting is an option, but not a necessity.”

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Under state law, a voter still would have to request a ballot from his or her local election board. Concern about the virus will now be a valid reason for a request. New York doesn’t allow for ballots to automatically be sent to registered voters, unlike some states.

Common Cause, an election watchdog group, applauded the Cuomo’s action, but said the state should expand absentee by law, not just a governor’s executive order, which is easily undone.

“This is a great start, however, New York cannot be ruled by executive order alone,” the group wrote on Twitter. It has been urging lawmakers to continue the 2020 legislative session by convening remotely rather than adjourning because of the pandemic.

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