State lawmakers and advocates on Thursday called for an end to a postage stamp requirement for absentee ballots in New York, calling it a "defacto poll tax" on voters.
"Voting is neither free nor fair if the State requires voters to pay for postage," said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan. "During a pandemic, when millions of New Yorkers will vote by mail to protect their health and safety, it is vital that we remove every barrier to the vote. This amounts to a poll tax: the cost of a single stamp could represent a difficult decision that no one who is barely scraping by should be forced to make."
The issue is being raised as millions more voters are expected to cast ballots by absentee this year amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic this year.
Civil rights advocates, too, are backing the changes for absentee ballot postage being guaranteed.
“This is voter suppression,” Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, president of the NAACP NYS Conference said. “Anytime we put anything in the way that doesn't encourage citizens to participate in democracy - that is voter suppression.”
The heightened use of absentee balloting has placed a new focus on the process, which has been expanded to include virtually every eligibile voter this year. Lawmakers next year could consider a constitutional amendment that would permanently expand what is for this year universal no-excuse absentee voting.
But at the same time, lawmakers have been calling for more permanent changes to the process, including the postage requirement for mailing in ballots.
A bill would require the state Board of Elections to provide a return postage stamp guaranteed envelope with absentee ballots. This was provided through executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the June 23 primary in New York; a similar order was not issued for the Nov. 3 general election.
“It is our jobs as stewards of democracy to ensure that there are as few barriers to voting as possible," said Bronx Democratic Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz. "Requiring postage to return an absentee ballot is tantamount to a poll tax, both with respect to the actual cost of postage as well as the logistical hurdle of purchasing a stamp."