On March 16, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order delaying village elections throughout New York scheduled for two days later until April 28 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our top priority has been keeping New Yorkers safe and stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Public health officials have been clear that reducing density is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread, and delaying village elections will help ensure poll workers and voters are not potentially exposed to the virus and at the same time maintain integrity in our election system.”
In Lewis County, this affected planned village elections in Castorland, Copenhagen, Lowville and Turin. The villages of Norwood and Richville were scheduled to hold elections in St. Lawrence County.
These elections will now be held April 28, the same day as the Democratic presidential primary in New York. But restrictions implemented due to the health care crisis with the novel coronavirus may still be in place at that time.
Mr. Cuomo ordered all non-essential businesses to close all in-office personnel functions. He also directed people ages 70 and older as well as those with compromised immune systems and underlying illnesses to remain home and limit contact with others. In addition, the policy advises people to observe social distancing practices while in public.
Balancing the need to protect public health with upholding the rights of New York residents to participate in the electoral process is complicated. State Attorney General Letitia A. James has advocated a process to ensure both.
She called on state officials to implement a system where all voters will be sent absentee ballots. This will provide much more protection for them and those conducting the elections while allowing individuals to take part in the elections.
“Voters shouldn’t have to choose between their health and the right to cast a ballot,” Ms. James said in a news release issued by her office Sunday. “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. Let’s make it easier for every voter to cast their vote without spreading the coronavirus and jeopardizing public health. Democracy should not be suspended if there is a safe alternative.”
This is a sensible plan. We urge authorities to review what would be necessary to carry out Ms. James’s proposal immediately.
“In an effort to protect all New Yorkers from the spread of the coronavirus, Attorney General James is calling for all eligible New York voters to automatically be sent an absentee ballot for the April 28 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,” according to the news release. “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.”
Election officials throughout Northern New York should contact their local state legislators to ensure ballots are sent to residents in villages holding elections on April 28.
We commend Ms. James for her wise plan and hope it’s enacted soon.