There are just a couple of weeks left to register to vote in the November 3 general election across New York, ahead of the October 9 deadline. If you need to register to vote in person, what does that look like?
In Rensselaer County, anyone visiting an office other than the DMV must enter on the third floor and get a quick health screen, which includes a temperature check, hand sanitizing, reporting contact information, and answering health questions. The whole thing takes less than 10 minutes.
“By coming in, filling out the form, we stamp it in, one our registrars will type it right in, and you'll get a postcard in about two weeks letting you know where your polling location is and the different options for early voting,” said Jason Schofield, Republican Commissioner of the county’s board of elections.
What You Need To Know
- The deadline to register to vote in New York State is Oct. 9
- Early voting begins statewide on Oct. 24 and absentee ballots must be requested no later than Oct. 27, though election officials are urging anyone who needs to one to request one sooner
- The DMV's website allows anyone with a valid New York driver's license or ID to register to vote, but if you must register in person, you may need to go through a brief health screening
- The League of Women Voters of New York is still in action despite COVID-19 with pop-up and drive-thru registrations, and will deliver a registration to anyone who needs it
While the in-person process hasn't changed much amid the pandemic, Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of New York, says they've seen people running into some other issues, particularly with the DMV's online tool.
"The problem we've been running into is [that] a lot of people, over the period of self-isolation, their IDs expired, and if your ID is expired, you can't use that tool," Wilson said. "And a lot of time, the DMV makes you come in for a new eye test or something, so you can't even renew your license online right now, so there is just a lot of nuance in the law."
Wilson says the League of Women Voters is still out across the Capital Region despite cancellations of events they're usually at. This year, they've gotten creative, offering up things like drive-thru voter registration; attending protests and rallies; and they are still hand-delivering registration forms.
Beyond registration, Wilson says there are nuances with signing absentee ballots, too, such as having a signature on an absentee ballot that matches your poll book signature rather than an older signature. Sending a new paper form, she said, will take care of that.
She noted there is a new law in New York, however, that says if your signature doesn't match, your local Board of Elections must alert you that if it isn't corrected within five days, your vote won't count.
But there are other issues which could invalidate absentee ballots, like marking outside designated areas; using a pencil rather than a pen with black or blue ink; and not sealing the inner ballot or the envelope.
Wilson said they are waiting from additional guidance from the state about sealing those ballots this year amid COVID-19, and whether taping them or tucking them in instead of using saliva will be an option without invalidating.
Wilson said they are also encouraging people to be sure to make sure their BOE has their most current contact information, and if you're voting by mail, to ensure you've carefully followed the instructions.
"2020 is a huge year, not just because of the president. We're voting for all our New York State Congress members, all our New York State senators and assembly members, and you'll likely have a race for a district attorney or a judge,” Wilson said. “These are the races that you want to vote [in] for you. If you want to see real change, these are the offices that can make real change."
Early voting across the state begins October 24, and if you'd like to request a mail-in ballot, you should do that no later than Oct. 27, but election officials are urging anyone who wants one of those mail-in ballots to request one sooner.
In Rensselaer County, the first batch of absentee ballots hit the mail this week. Schofield said there have been about 10,000 requests so far. You can call your local board of election to request an absentee ballot, pick one up at the local BOE office, or click here.
And if you're not sure how you want to vote, Wilson said it is possible to request an absentee ballot, and even fill it out and return it, but still vote in-person early or on Election Day, which will cancel out the absentee ballot.
She added that, as a result of that law and the expected record number of absentee ballots being cast this year, final results shouldn’t be expected on Election Day.
"It’s going to take a long time to go through all the absentee ballots, compare it to our poll books, see who voted in person and then ultimately get the results," Wilson said.
The only way to register to vote online in in New York in 2020 is through the DMV, at this link.
While the state recently passed a law allowing registration through other third-party sites, it is not in effect yet.