Absentee Ballot Tracking Passed By Senate
After three years in legislative limbo, Democrats in the state Senate have passed a bill giving state residents a way to track their absentee ballots.
S.1028, sponsored by Sen. Leroy Comrie, D-Queens, was approved in a 43-20 party-line vote. The legislation amends the state Election Law to require the state Board of Elections to provide a secure website where New Yorkers can track an absentee ballot from the moment the original request is received, approved, mailed or delivered to the voter, received a completed ballot back, opportunities to cure and the actual counting of the vote.
While the website would be run through the state Board of Elections, it will require data to be sent from local Boards of Election in order to function. County Board of Elections and the New York City Board of Elections will be allowed to establish absentee ballot tracking systems of their own accord, if desired. Tracking information would only be available for individual voters to track their own ballot.
“The very means and nature of voting is rapidly changing in New York and across the nation,” Comrie wrote in his legislative justification. “Absentee, early and full fledged vote by mail are becoming the predominate norm, not the exception. As such, it is makes total sense that the State Board Of Elections should maintain a dynamic, transparent, and user-friendly website where voters may track their ballot every step of the way- from the moment the original request is received, approved, mailed or delivered to the voter, received a completed ballot back, opportunities to cure and the actual counting of the vote. Our democracy demands this important level of accountability and certainty that the franchise is executed properly.”
Comrie’s legislation was first proposed in the 2017-18 legislative session, but never had companion legislation introduced in the state Assembly. It was reintroduced in 2019-20, this time with a companion bill in the Assembly, but never made it out of committee.
Despite passing in the state Senate, S.1028 doesn’t yet have a companion bill in the state Assembly, though hundreds of bills are being reintroduced in the Assembly each day.
EARLY PROCESSING OF ABSENTEE BALLOTS APPROVED
The Senate also passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Astoria, setting additional rules and procedures for the handling of absentee ballots. S.1027 requires boards of elections to examine and determine the validity of received absentee ballot envelopes starting 40 days before Election Day. The bill was approved in a 43-20 party line vote
Because of the novel coronavirus 2019, however, boards of elections around the state received a deluge of absentee ballots during the June 23, 2020 primary. In New York City, the amount of absentee ballots increased tenfold compared to recent elections. Six weeks after the primary, two congressional races remained undecided and vast numbers of ballots had yet to be counted,” Gianaris wrote in his legislative justification. “New Yorkers are entitled to know the results of elections expeditiously regardless of how many absentee ballots are utilized. This is especially true during a state emergency, and also when an amendment to the Constitution providing for no-excuse vote by mail is in progress.”
Canvassing and preparation of absentee ballots will begin at the close of polls on the second Sunday of early voting for valid absentee ballots received prior to such date. Voters will receive notice if there are technical deficiencies in an absentee ballot, and Gianaris’ legislation stipulates that registration poll books will include a notification if a voter was provided an absentee ballot, though the notation isn’t required for any list used during early voting.
Every poll site would be required to receive an envelop to hold voided absentee ballots of voters who choose to vote in person. Voters who had been given an absentee ballot and then try to vote in person on Election Day will be allowed to do so only if they surrender their absentee ballot to an election inspector to be voided, marked “voted in person” and placed in the designated envelop.
The legislation also gives instructions for legal challenges. In order to obtain an order for injunctive to halt or alter the canvassing of absentee or affidavit ballots, the petitioner must show by clear and convincing evidence that due to procedural irregularities or other facts arising during the election, the petitioner will be irreparably harmed absent relief. In certain proceedings regarding the validity of absentee ballot applications and affirmation envelopes, the voter in question must be named as a necessary party.
“Due to the current construct of state election law, it is virtually impossible for absentee ballots to be counted any earlier than the close of polls on Election Day,” Gianaris wrote in his legislative justification. “This bill mandates that absentee ballots be examined and have their validity determined starting forty days prior to Election Day. Beginning at the close of polls on the second Sunday of early voting, absentee ballots received prior to such date shall be prepared and canvassed. Since absentee ballots will not be canvassed until after the period of early voting ends, nothing in this bill prevents early voters from being able to vote by machine like they do currently.”