Dinowitz passes bill to extend absentee voting through 2021

Dinowitz passes a bill to extend absentee voting through 2021
Courtesy of AM Dinowitz

In an effort to address voting problems that arose in the June 23 primary election, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has passed legislation that would expand the ability to vote by mail in upcoming elections.

The legislation has been passed by the Assembly and State Senate and now awaits the governor’s signature.

The bill would temporarily alter the definition of illness with respect to absentee voting eligibility to include “risk of contracting or spreading a disease that may cause illness to the voter or to other members of the public.” The expansion of this definition would expire Jan. 1, 2022, which coincides with the soonest a constitutional amendment to allow no-excuse absentee voting in New York State could take effect.

“The single most important element of our democracy is that voters have confidence in the results of our elections,” Dinowitz said. “Without expanded absentee voting eligibility for upcoming elections, New Yorkers will be forced to choose between their health and their vote and that is unacceptable.”

He added, “The continued rise in COVID-19 cases around the United States does not inspire confidence that we will be in a position to conduct robust in-person elections for a long time, and this legislation bridges the gap between now and when voters will have the opportunity to authorize no-excuse absentee voting for 2022. Thank you to my colleagues in the legislature and the advocates who supported this legislation, and I urge the State Senate to deliver this bill to the governor for his signature as soon as possible.”

The constitutional amendment to authorize no-excuse absentee voting was passed in 2019 and must pass again in the next legislature, in January 2021. If approved, the amendment must be ratified by statewide popular vote. This could happen as soon as November 2021 and, if ratified, the constitution would be amended on the first day of January next after such approval.

The effect of this legislation would be that all eligible voters can request an absentee ballot if they are worried about spreading COVID-19, similar to what was in effect for the June 23 primary election. This would affect the Nov. 3 general election as well as all elections in New York in 2021.

The other absentee voting reform bills passed by the Assembly include legislation to address counting absentee ballots without a postmark if they are received by the day after an election and allow voters to correct a signature error on an absentee ballot as well as require notification by the Board of Elections to a voter that their ballot has been invalidated.

AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel praised Dinowitz for legislation that will greatly impact seniors in New York.

“Older voters in our state should not have to risk their lives or their health to exercise their right to vote,” Finkel said. “With the pandemic still upon us, all registered voters should be able to cast their ballots safely from home if they choose in the November general election. AARP New York thanks Senator Biaggi and Assemblyman Dinowitz for protecting New Yorkers’ safety with their legislation and we call on Governor Cuomo to sign it into law.”

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