Bills meant to ensure greater access to absentee ballots, ensuring those ballots are counted and expanding information for voters on polling place changes were signed into law Friday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The package of measures comes after the COVID-19 pandemic led state officials to temporarily find new means of providing access to absentee ballots as some voters avoided physical polling locations.
"During the past 16 months, numerous obstacles thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic imperiled one of our most basic and vital rights—the right to vote," Cuomo said. "This sweeping, comprehensive package of legislation will make it easier for voters, candidates and boards of elections to perform their critical functions and keep our democracy running. Elections have enormous consequences for New Yorkers across the state, and these reforms will bolster their ability to use their voices at the ballot box."
The provisions include an end to signed absentee ballot applications and allow for absentee ballots to be postmarked by Election Day for them to be considered timely.
The new law allows for the final day a ballot to be postmarked to be brought into line with the deadline for hand-delivered ballots. Absentee ballots can also be requested by letter.
"At a time when voting rights are under attack in other states, New York is doing the right thing by making it easier to vote, not harder," said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, a sponsor of the legislation. " I am grateful the legislature passed my bill with Assemblymember Bichotte Hermelyn to ensure more valid votes are counted and am pleased it is being signed into law today."
Another allows voters to request absentee ballots through electronic means. And elections will be required to confirm deadlines for the mailing of applications for absentee ballots to U.S. Postal Services Guidelines.
"I'm proud of the work we've done to improve voter participation and access to the ballot here in New York, but there's more work that remains," said Sen. Zellnor Myrie. "These new laws will serve the interests of voters and our democracy, and contribute to our ongoing effort to defend and expand voting rights."
Boards of elections would be required to post information about changes in polling places. The notices must be posted on the day of the election itself or the first day of early voting before polls open.
At the same time, Cuomo approved bills that allow candidates who have lost primaries to be removed from ballots as candidates for different parties, ending the practice of nominating a losing primary candidate who has secured a different ballot line for an office like a judgeship.
Election district registrant enrollment will also be increased from 1,150 to 2,000 voters — a move meant to modernized elections. The previous limit was set based on the number of votes the old lever machines could handle.