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More than 1.5M NYers voted by mail, 318,000 of them LIers

A Suffolk County absentee ballot application on May

A Suffolk County absentee ballot application on May 26. Credit: Newsday / Ken Sawchuk

ALBANY — Nearly four times as many New Yorkers cast ballots by mail this fall than in the 2016 presidential election, including 318,455 from Long Island, according to state and county records.

Statewide, more than 1.56 million New Yorkers cast absentee ballots since September, according to a Nov. 5 report, the latest tally state available. That total compares with 400,660 absentee ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election.

To be valid this year, absentee ballots had to be postmarked no later than Nov. 3, the traditional Election Day, and had to be received by county boards of elections no later than Tuesday.

Suffolk County voters cast 166,337 absentee ballots. Among them, Democrats cast 77,249 ballots, Republicans, 38,778, Conservative Party members, 2,281, and voters not enrolled in a party, 41,083.

In Nassau County, residents cast 152,118 absentee ballots. Among them, Democrats cast 76,146 ballots, Republicans, 35,615, Conservative Party members, 965 and voters not in political parties, 34,442.

Earlier tallies of absentee ballots received were higher, but tens of thousands of voters chose to overrule their absentee ballots by going to the polls during early voting or on the traditional Election Day. Electronic polling books used by election officials are intended to make sure no one voted twice.

This year, new laws allowed voters to cast absentee ballots because of concern about contracting COVID-19 at crowded polling places. A new law expanded the legal reasons for a voter to be allowed to cast an absentee ballot beyond illness or being out of the county on Election Day to include concern over the coronavirus.

Although counties could start to count absentee votes as early as Tuesday under state law, Nassau County doesn’t expect to be ready to start counting until Thursday or Friday and Suffolk County doesn’t expect to start counting until Monday. That counting is expected to take several days because of the huge numbers of mailed votes.

Election observers in New York and nationally expect the demand for mailed voting to continue to grow.

"This year, tens of millions more voters cast absentee ballots than in 2016 or 2012," said Kevin R. Kosar, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. He said mailed-in voting has expanded to more states over the last 30 years. "Going forward I would anticipate absentee voting to continue to be very popular."

The general election hasn’t been marked by the glitches of the summer primary, the first that included expanded absentee voting. In New York City, for example, 20% of primary ballots were invalidated because of voter errors. The improvements in the fall election included clearer instructions, better graphics to explain directions and a checklist for voters before they mail their ballots.

"This is a tremendous improvement," said Susan Lerner of Common Cause-NY. "The percentage of invalidated ballots in New York City has dropped precipitously. … I would say on an initial evaluation, it was very successful."

She credits Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the legislature for quickly changing laws after the June primary election, and the state and county boards of election for quickly implementing them.

"How often do we see a problem in June that is addressed in August?" Lerner said. "I think they all deserve credit."

Across the state, Democrats cast 933,534 of the 1.56 million absentee votes, according to the state Board of Elections’ Nov. 5 report. Republicans cast 263,534, Conservative Party members, 11,852, members of the liberal Working Families Party, 2,610, and Independence Party voters, 48,155. Voters not enrolled in any party cast 294,962 absentee ballots.

In several cases around the state, the large number of absentee ballots cast could be enough to overcome the leads some candidates held on Nov. 3, after the voting on machines was complete.

State Republican chairman Nick Langworthy said he doesn’t see an advantage at this point for one party over another and sees none of the fraud Republican President Donald Trump claims without proof in some other states.

"I have faith in New York and our ability to get through this fairly," he said. "I don’t see any chicanery so far."

His view mirrors repeated academic and government studies that have found no significant fraud in years of mail-in balloting in other states.

Yet, Langworthy said, something is lost. "There’s something to be said for Election Day," he said. "You used to vote on one day … now we vote for six weeks and we don’t know the results for six weeks."

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