WATERTOWN — State Attorney General Letitia James is calling for all voting in the scheduled April 28 Democratic presidential primary to take place by absentee ballot.
Ms. James said in a statement Sunday that this will allow voters to take part in the primary, as well as a few other special elections around the state slated for that day, without risking the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
By utilizing existing state law and an executive order that will continue to temporarily suspend and modify state laws relating to the coronavirus emergency, Attorney General James is calling for a suspension of all in-person voting until further notice and, instead, to send every eligible voter an absentee ballot for the April 28 presidential primary and five special elections.
“Voters shouldn’t have to choose between their health and the right to cast a ballot,” Attorney General James said. “If we act now, we have more than a month before the presidential primary and numerous special elections across our state to take action and ensure every eligible New York voter receives an absentee ballot.
In an effort to protect all New Yorkers from the spread of the coronavirus, the attorney general is calling for all eligible New York voters to automatically be sent an absentee ballot for the April 28th election, including the Democratic party’s presidential primary, as well as special elections to fill seats in the 27th congressional district, the 50th senate district, the 12th assembly district, the 31st assembly district, and the 136th assembly district.
Attorney General James is not the only New York public official calling for the state to temporarily enact an automatic absentee voting system. Assembly Member Joseph Lentol, D-North Brooklyn, this week announced that he would be introducing a bill in the legislature that would implement an automatic absentee voting system on an emergency basis for the April election, in an effort to stop the further spread of the coronavirus.
Currently, in New York, voters who wish to vote absentee must fill out a ‘New York State Absentee Ballot Application’ and indicate that they cannot vote in person — at the polls — on the day of an election for specific reasons.
While the threat of contracting COVID-19 is not an option on the statewide absentee ballot application, almost two weeks ago the Erie County Board of Elections released a special absentee ballot application listing “public health emergency (COVID-19)” as an option for voting absentee in the special election to fill the open seat in the 27th congressional district.
Attorney General James’ call Sunday for automatic absentee voting goes further than what some local municipalities have already done by ensuring that every eligible voter in New York is automatically sent an absentee ballot for the upcoming election, instead of just giving them an option to vote by absentee ballot. Automatically sending out absentee ballots would not require the state to alter the statewide application by adding a “public health emergency” option, and would avoid the possibility of leaving polls open for voters to vote in person on Election Day — potentially further spreading the virus and risking public health.
An Executive Order signed March 7 declared a “State of Emergency” that allows the state to temporarily suspend or modify any law or regulation in response to a disaster emergency. The temporary suspensions can only last 30 days, so the attorney general is calling for a new executive order to be signed March 29, which would extend the time period to include the April 28 election.
Across the nation, there are currently 33 states that already offer absentee voting with no reason necessary — making New York an outlier for only allowing vote-by-mail or absentee voting under a narrow set of circumstances.
Also Sunday, the attorney general asked that any employee who believes their employer is in violation of labor laws or official directives during the emergency set forth by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to contact the attorney general’s Labor Bureau (212) 416-8700 or Labor.Bureau@ag.ny.gov and file a complaint.