There are five measures on the Nov. 2 ballot that voters will be asked to weigh in on in New York.
Capital Tonight spoke with various advocates and lawmakers for and against each of the proposals to get a sense of what’s at stake. Here, we examine the fourth question.
Ballot Question #4: Authorizing No-Excuse Absentee Ballot Voting
The proposed amendment would delete from the current provision on absentee ballots the requirement that an absentee voter must be unable to appear at the polls by reason of absence from the country or illness or physical disability. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?
In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state Legislature passed a law allowing New Yorkers to request absentee ballots for the general election. That law amended the “no-excuse requirement” for voters who could request a ballot if they were concerned they could contract the virus.
That law is in effect for any election through Jan. 1, 2022.
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Currently, New York's constitution lists only a narrow set of stipulations for voters to apply for and receive an absentee ballot in the days before Election Day. That could change if a majority of New Yorkers vote “yes” on ballot question 4, something good government groups are pushing.
“We definitely saw an increase in absentee voting during the pandemic last year,” Jennifer Wilson, of the New York League of Women Voters, told Capital Tonight. “And it didn’t seem like it was overly burdensome for boards of election to deal with.”
Wilson believes that most people prefer to vote in person – whether early or on Election Day.
“It’ll just make it so much easier for people who either get called out of town suddenly for business or suddenly have something going on,” she explained. “They don’t need to tell the board of elections what they’re doing, they can just say 'hey, I need an absentee ballot.' "
Susan Lerner, of Common Cause, put it this way: “It’s absolutely essential in today’s world.”
“We’ve seen the impact of lifting our antiquated requirements for voting by mail or voting absentee,” Lerner said. “Our experience around the country is when you give voters the flexibility of how and when they vote, many of them choose to vote by mail for various reasons.”
New York state is among a minority of states that has absentee voting restrictions.
Thirty-four states and Washington, D.C. do not require an excuse from voters who wish to vote absentee or by mail. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — conduct elections entirely by mail, which means voters do not need to request a ballot, and instead automatically receive one.
But state Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy will be voting “no” on ballot question 4 unless there is a corresponding requirement for voter identification.
“I don’t think we have to expand mail-in voting any more than we have. You can basically vote for a month in the state of New York,” Langworthy said. “Mail-in voting leads to controversy,” he continued. “There were 70,000 people at the Buffalo Bills game on Sunday. There is no need to expand mail-in voting. That effort should also be defeated.”