Dinowitz introduces extension for pandemic absentee voting following failed ballot measure

New York State Absentee Ballot Application Form
State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz wants to extend a pandemic-related absentee ballot eligibility expansion.
Photo courtesy Getty Images

The Nov. 2 statewide ballot proposal to allow no-excuse absentee voting didn’t pass, but that hasn’t stopped state Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who is trying to expand eligibility as the pandemic continues.

A temporary measure allowing voters in New York to cite the pandemic as a reason to vote absentee will expire Jan. 1, 2022. The bill passed July 22-23, 2020, and was sponsored by Dinowitz, a Democrat, in the Assembly and Progressive state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi in the Senate.

Normally, in order to vote by mail, New Yorkers must be unable to appear at the polls because they are absent from their county or have an illness or physical disability. The near-expiring law expanded the definition of “illness” to include instances where a voter cannot appear in person because of a risk of contracting or spreading a communicable disease.

The Nov. 2 ballot proposition, if passed, would have changed the law to allow voters throughout the state to mail in their ballots without an excuse.

The expanded pandemic-related eligibility was set to expire and align with no-excuse voting being implemented following the general election proposition, according to Dinowitz’s office. But now that the measure failed, “leaving voters who would prefer to cast their ballots from the safety of their own homes to weigh the importance of their health and their vote,” the state lawmaker is introducing a bill that would extend the expanded eligibility through Feb. 1, 2024.

“My new legislation is a critical measure so that no New Yorker is forced to put their own health at risk simply to cast a ballot, and I urge my colleagues to support this important measure when we return to Albany in January,” Dinowitz said.

A statement from Dinowitz’s office said that if the legislation passes then lawmakers and voters, from 2022-2024, can decide whether to revisit a constitutional amendment about absentee voting.

Mail-in voting without a reason is allowed in most states in the U.S.

In addition to 29 states and Washington, D.C. that allow no-excuse absentee voting, five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — conduct their elections fully by mail, meaning all voters receive a mail-in ballot. For the 2020 elections, 27 states and Washington, D.C. expanded access to voting by mail because of the pandemic.

But when casting their ballots during this month’s general election, New Yorkers decided they weren’t interested.

Just 39% voted in favor of the proposal, with 50% against it and 11% of voters leaving the question blank, according to state election night results. In the Bronx, 25% of voters decided not to choose a side on the issue, while 41.5% were in favor of the amendment and 33% were against it.

New York GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy stopped in 40 counties in 10 days leading up to Election Day for a “Just Say No” campaign against no-excuse absentee voting and other failed ballot measures, which kicked off in Staten Island and stopped twice in Queens and once in Brooklyn.

Langworthy told the Bronx Times that Dinowitz’s proposed extension is “absolutely absurd,” and a “grasp at straws” that tries to use the pandemic to skew things in favor for Democrats.

“It was one thing when we had an extraordinary circumstance,” Langworthy said. “We don’t anymore. We are largely reopen and we need to get back to normal.”

Dinowtiz’s office said the effort is motivated by “a stubborn COVID-19 pandemic that has still not been resolved after twenty months, as positive test results have hovered at several thousand new cases per day in New York State for the past three months.”

As of Nov. 16, 2,102 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York State.

The proposed legislation, which has been filed in Assembly, doesn’t have a bill number or Senate co-sponsor yet.

Biaggi did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.

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