OSWEGO — Voting used to be pretty simple in New York state. There were only two ways, in-person and absentee. Now there are three, including the year-old right to vote early, signed into law for the 2019 elections.
Though there is a very strong likelihood that many people will be voting this November in ways they’ve never voted before, it’s still pretty simple if you just take it one step at a time.
First step? Make sure you’re registered to vote. There are numerous ways to do this, some requiring a few steps, but all are easily accomplished, and all basically require that you complete and submit a registration form. You can obtain one in a number of ways. Download one off the state website (https://www.elections.ny.gov/VotingRegister.html) in English or in Spanish; come in to the county Board of Elections and fill one out; request one by mail (Oswego County Board of Elections, 185 E. Seneca St., Oswego, NY 13126); go to the DMV or register through the DMV website at https://dmv.ny.gov/more-info/electronic-voter-registration-application. If you do not have your most recent New York State DMV-issued identification (license, permit or non-driver ID) or were never issued a New York State DMV identification document, you cannot register online through DMV. You will need to register by mail or in person. Registration forms are also available at most government offices, post offices and libraries. Fill one out and mail it to the Board of Elections or bring it in in-person. Whichever method you choose to register, you must mail or deliver or electronically submit your completed registration form to the board of elections no later than 25 days before the election in which you want to vote. This year, that is Oct. 9. Your eligibility to vote will be based on the date you file this form, and the board will notify you of your eligibility. You must be an American citizen, 18 years old by election day, have been a resident of the county for the past 30 days, not be in prison or on parole for a felony, and not be claiming the right to vote anywhere else.
Now that you’ve got that requirement nailed down, you may choose one of the three available methods of voting.
In-person voting at your usual polling site remains pretty much what it’s always been. In normal, pre-COVID times, 90% of voters voted in-person, and many will choose that method again, some because they’re so familiar with it, and some, concerned about possible delays by the Postal Service, to ensure their vote is counted. Aside from the possible requirements to wear a mask and socially distance, in-person voting this year should closely resemble your past in-person voting experiences. But, don’t forget to bring a mask in case that condition is being enforced. In-person voting will take place Nov. 3 between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. To look up where to vote in-person according to where you live, go to https://voterlookup.elections.ny.gov/.
Next option, in-person early voting. This method is just as easy as in-person voting Nov. 3 at your polling site. The difference is it’s spread out over 9 days prior to the election, and instead of voting at your usual polling site, you must vote at the Board of Elections. Early voting begins Saturday, Oct. 24. Here are the times and days you may vote: Saturday, Oct. 24, 1-6 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 25, Saturday, Oct. 31, and Sunday, Nov. 1, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; Monday, Oct. 26, Wednesday, Oct. 28, and Friday, Oct. 30, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Tuesday, Oct. 27, and Thursday, Oct. 29, noon-8 p.m.
And finally, the third option, voting by absentee ballot. This method has been around for years, and for some people voting this way this year will be easy as pie. Many Oswego County residents who head south for the winter have used this method many times. But for the rest of us hardy souls who brave the Oswego winters, absentee voting will be a new experience. And, there’s no way of getting around saying this, it is the trickiest and most-involved of the three methods of voting. So, please pay attention, take it step by step, and fulfill all the requirements.
Absentee voting “has never really been a game-changer,” said Oswego County Democratic Election Commissioner Laura Brazak in a recent interview. “The margin of victory is usually not within the number of absentee ballots received, but it could make a difference this time.”
And like every other change in our everyday lives over the past five months, COVID’s to blame. Many people are not comfortable with in-person voting this year, and so, they’d rather mail it in. New York state does not officially have mail-in voting as a number of other states do. But absentee voting is a way to achieve the same end. There is one main difference however and a number of special requirements associated with this method. The main difference is that absentee voting requires a reason. You have to have a valid reason for not being able to go down to your polling site and vote in-person, and you have to arrange to vote by absentee ballot in advance of the election. There are a number of other valid reasons, but just not feeling like going out to vote isn’t one of them. And up until this November’s election, concern about catching some disease from someone at your polling site wasn’t a valid excuse either. This year it is. And so, this year, absentee voting is called “no-excuse” absentee voting, and it considers the concern over catching COVID while voting in-person as a valid reason to vote by absentee ballot.
But first, you have to get a ballot. So, here’s step one in this process. Apply for a ballot to be sent to you.
You will need an absentee ballot application. You can download one off the state website in English or Spanish at https://www.elections.ny.gov/VotingAbsentee.html, you can call the Board of Elections and ask for one (315-349-8350 or 315-349-8351), you can email the Board of Elections your request (OswegoCounty.BOE@oswegocounty.com), or you can fax in your request at 315-349-8357.
You may also request an absentee ballot by mail by sending a letter to the Board of Elections (185 East Seneca St., Oswego, NY 13126). The letter must contain the following information: name and date of birth of the voter; the address where you are registered; an address where the ballot is to be sent, and the reason for the request. “Temporary illness” is the correct response if possible exposure to COVID is your reason.
If you apply by letter, an application form will be mailed with your ballot. The application form must be completed and returned with your ballot.
If you cannot pick up your ballot, or will not be able to receive it through the mail, you have the right to designate someone to pick it up for you. Only that person designated on your application may pick up and deliver your ballot.
If you are permanently ill or disabled, you have the right to receive an absentee ballot for each subsequent election without further application. Simply file an application with the Board of Elections indicating permanent illness or physical disability. You will then automatically receive an absentee ballot for every election until your registration is canceled.
If you are a voter with special needs, you may also apply for an accessible absentee ballot using the Accessible Absentee Ballot Application at
You must apply online, by postmarked mail, email, fax, or letter request for the General Election Absentee ballot no later than 7 days (Oct. 27) before the election. However, the U.S. Postal Service has thrown somewhat of a monkey wrench into this timing. They have advised that they cannot guarantee on-time delivery of a ballot to anyone who submitted their request for a ballot by mail fewer than 15 days before the election, that being Oct. 19. In other words, the Postal Service is saying by submitting your application for an absentee ballot with fewer than 15 days to go before the election, they won’t guarantee that you’ll get an official absentee ballot back from the Board of Elections in time to cast it by Nov. 3, the date by which your vote by absentee ballot must be postmarked or received in-person at the Board of Elections. Fill it out and mail it soon after you receive it. You may file an application for an absentee ballot at any time before the deadline. According to Brazak, 1,600 people in Oswego County have already done so.
You may apply in-person for an absentee ballot at the Board of Elections up to the day before the election, Nov. 2.
In what may be the easiest answer of all, you may apply for an absentee ballot over the phone (315-349-8350 or 315-349-8351) and ask that the Board of Elections fill it out for you. No signature is presently required.
Now, one way or another, you’ve successfully applied for an absentee ballot. Next, you wait for the Board of Elections to mail you one.
Ballots will be mailed out beginning on or about Sept. 180. Now, you have to correctly fill it out and return it.
Once you receive the ballot, mark the ballot according to your choices for each office following the instructions on the ballot.
Once you have completed marking your ballot fold it up and place it in the Security Envelope. (This envelope will have a place for your signature.)
Sign and date the outside of the Security Envelope. Make sure to do this. Overlooking this step is a common reason for the rejection of an absentee ballot.
Seal the Security Envelope.
Place the Security Envelope in the Return Envelope. (This envelope will have the return address of the Board of Elections on the outside and should have a logo that reads, “Official Election Mail.”)
Seal the Return Envelope.
You may return the ballot in any of the following three ways:
Put it in the mail. During the June primary elections, there were many absentee ballots that did not get postmarked due either to a printing error on the envelope or a Postal Service error in postmarking. That was a major reason for the rejection of numerous absentee ballots. All mailed absentee ballots must be postmarked and must be postmarked no later than Nov. 3. You may absolutely ensure your ballot gets postmarked by taking it into the post office and requesting that it be hand-stamped with that day’s postmark.
Bring it to the County Board of Elections Office no later than Nov. 3. Ballots brought to the Board of Elections in-person do not need a postmark.
Bring it to a polling site on Nov. 3. It will not need a postmark.
Lastly, a few words from Democratic Election Commissioner Laura Brazak on voting fraud via absentee ballots.
“There is no fraud,” she said. “You can’t just make a copy on a machine. The paper’s weighted, there are timing marks all around it, it’s a special weight and shape, all of our machines read just that ballot. If you took a ballot from Hastings and drove it over to Fulton, it wouldn’t take on the machine. Every single machine and every single ballot – we have 12 different ballots filed, and we have 110 election districts – every one is marked to be accepted by the machine at the poll site it was issued to. We were one of the last states to adopt, so we learned from all the other states’ mistakes. We have a paper trail. There’s a record of everything, and it’s checked and cross-checked, and it’s all done in a bi-partisan manner.”