The coronavirus pandemic is leading to calls to expand New York’s criteria for absentee ballot access ahead of the June 23 primary.

Thousands of New Yorkers are expected at the polls in June to cast ballots in primaries and special elections.

It promises to be a busy day.

Races will include the Democratic presidential primary Governor Andrew Cuomo moved from April to June, as well as congressional and state legislative primaries. Special elections for a western New York House district and a state Senate seat in central will also be held.

But some voters may be hesitant about leaving home.

“People are asking to be able to do absentee ballots because they’re afraid of getting sick or they’re in an at-risk group or they just don’t simply want to go to the polls on Election Day,” said Dustin Czarny, the co-chairman of the statewide association of elections commissioners and the Onondaga County Board of Elections co-chair.

The state has strict guidelines that govern access to absentee ballots, which the Legislature over the years has expanded.

A wholesale change — such as allowing voting by mail — would likely require a constitutional amendment.

Officials in New York are mindful of what’s happening in Wisconsin, where the governor there sought to delay the scheduled presidential primary, but was ordered to hold it anyway.

New York also needs to expand its absentee ballot criteria to include the pandemic as an increased number of applications to cast absentee ballots are hitting county officials, Czarny said.

“That’s already happening,” he said. “To be able to send those applications out and know they are not going to be challenged on the back end, the Legislature or the governor needs to act.”

Voters who come out to the polls as well as work there on Election Day tend to be older and in the more vulnerable group for the virus.

“Even if we aren’t in the vulnerable population, we should still want to protect our fellow neighbors and friends and family members and New Yorkers so we can protect our right to vote and vote and also stay home and be healthy,” said Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, the Bronx Democrat who sponsors the measure in her chamber.

And while there are some hopeful signs that hospitalizations are beginning to flatten, Biaggi expects the concerns over the pandemic will linger in late June.
“We’ve got to keep that curve going down until it becomes perfectly flat and I don’t believe by the June primary we’ll reach that point,” Biaggi said.

Biaggi is hopeful the Legislature will be convening in some form — likely through remote voting — to pass a package of coronavirus-related measures including the absentee ballot measure.