There are just over eight weeks until Election Day, and there’s a lot to keep track of between now and then: there’s ordering an absentee ballot (which you can do now), considering early voting (starting Oct. 24), returning your absentee ballot if you choose that option (must be postmarked by Nov. 3), and good old Election Day voting as usual on the first Tuesday in November.
The diverse options are necessary because this year’s election for president, Congress and state offices will be conducted amid a pandemic, one that demands strict safety precautions and real preparation so that registered voters can cast their ballots without fear of sickness or bureaucratic mishap. You deserve it, and you deserve all the information that will help you do your civic duty.
Here are some of the key details:
In the face of COVID-19, many thousands of Long Islanders are preparing to send in their votes by mail, making use of a recent state law that allows voters to request an absentee ballot due to concerns about disease.
You can make that request now by applying for a ballot online at www.elections.ny.gov/VotingAbsentee.html. The website outlines other ways to get your absentee ballot, including going in-person to county election boards, sending an email, or mailing a paper application, which is available to print from the websites of the Nassau and Suffolk boards.
Then, keep an eye on the mail. In the coming weeks, the Nassau and Suffolk boards will send out the absentee ballots to those who have requested them. Once you’ve received your ballot and are ready to make your choices from top to bottom, do send it back expeditiously to avoid any possible postal delays.
You can apply for an absentee ballot online and by mail up to Oct. 27, and in person through Nov. 2., the day before the general election. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by local election boards no later than Nov. 10. Military Voter Ballots, on the other hand, must be received no later than Nov. 16th.
The U.S. Postal Service will be mightily challenged with the increase in mail-in voting across the country, as happened during New York’s June 23 primary. Even in that collection of lower-turnout races, some results in the state were delayed by weeks, and there were issues with voters receiving their ballots and ballots getting to election boards.
Applying for and sending in your ballot early will help. And remember, if you sent in that ballot but change plans and end up voting in person, that’s OK in New York: only the in-person vote would count.
If you’re worried about the mail, you can drop off your ballot at your board of elections or early or regular voting site.
Also, voters are supposed to get a little more of the benefit of the doubt this year if they make small absentee ballot mistakes like forgetting to sign the envelope. Elections officials will contact the voter and provide the opportunity to correct the deficiency.
And you have other options this cycle. Early voting is available from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1. These are central locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and you can vote at any one. The only requirement is that you vote in your home county. Hours and locations are available on the county elections websites. For those who feel comfortable voting in person, early is a very good option because it cuts down on the deluge of mailed ballots and lines on Election Day. Remember that early voting sites will include hygienic precautions for the pandemic, and many sites are largely empty for long periods of time. Besides, your vote will be tallied on election night, unlike an absentee ballot.
Of course, you can vote as always on Election Day at your assigned voting site.
Officials and voting-rights activists around the country have been working to make Election Day in-person voting even safer by using sports arenas as poll sites. It’s a smart choice — vast facilities like the Staples Center in Los Angeles and Barclays and Madison Square Garden in New York will give voters more room to spread out and vote safely. Why can’t Long Island try something similar? The Nassau Coliseum might be a good location — or Suffolk Community College — drawing in voters and putting space to good use.
This is all a lot to take in. Election boards will be sifting through many more absentee ballots than usual. The amount of paper being sent out and received will likely be staggering. When it’s all over, don’t expect things to really be over. Election night results will only include votes cast that day and during the period of early voting. The rest will likely take days, possibly to decide the winner of the presidential contest, but certainly for smaller but crucial down-ballot races for Congress and the State Legislature.
And while we are talking elections, don’t forget that for those who live in some villages, the elections are on Sept. 15, postponed due to coronavirus from earlier this year.
This election season will be an unprecedented one. Don’t let yourself miss it.
— The editorial board