How Do You Vote During a Pandemic? Advocates Call on N.Y. Lawmakers to Protect Voters

ALBANY — Good government groups want the state Legislature to prioritize voters and ensure protection are in place to keep New Yorkers safe amid the coronavirus crisis.
Advocates are on board with many of the executive orders Gov. Cuomo has issued to ease fears and bolster turnout for the state’s June primary, such as expanding absentee ballots.

But they say those changes should be codified into law to avoid confusion and further protect voters’ safety and peace of mind.
“You want the voters to know that the rules are set, they are the same set of rules for June and November,” Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause NY, told the Daily News. “The truth of the matter is that, irrespective of whether the state is still on ‘pause’ in November or not, there are still going to be a lot of people who are leery of going out and standing on a long line to vote.”

In order to ease such fears, the Let NY Vote coalition has a four-point plan that includes measures doubling the number of days for early voting, ensuring absentee ballots are counted and making it easier for disabled New Yorkers to cast ballots.

The groups want lawmakers to expand early voting, which was offered in New York for the first time last year, by extending hours at polling sites and opening them for more days ahead of an election.

They also want to see legislation extending the executive order signed by Cuomo that expanded the definition of illness to include the possibility of catching coronavirus as a justification for voting absentee through the end of the year. A bill sponsored by Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblyman Michael Blake, both Bronx Democrats, would do just that.

The measure is necessary to avoid a situation similar to what occurred in Wisconsin last month as thousands stood hours-long lines to cast their votes in the state’s presidential primary.
Another priority is allowing voters to apply for an absentee ballot via email or online without the need for a signature or separate application. New York is one of a few states that require voters to mail in a signed application for an absentee ballot.

Also included in the voter package is a measure offering accommodations for voters with disabilities who wish to vote by mail in the form of Braille and large print ballots or special ballot marking software as well as online and phone assistance.

“Voters need to know this is how we’re going to vote in 2020,” Lerner said. “Now is the time for the Legislature to say we need certainty. We need people to have faith in our elections.”
Leaders of both the Senate and Assembly have said they expect lawmakers to take up coronavirus-related legislation in the coming weeks, but have not set a date for resuming their work.