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Key voting dates approaching in New York

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day and pro-voting rights groups are encouraging potential voters to register, and for those who do want to vote, to make a plan in advance.



There are some important dates for voters in New York to remember.

New Yorkers who are not currently registered to vote in this fall's elections have until October 9 to do so. You can register at your county board of elections, at several state agencies, request a voter registration form by mail or call a hotline number listed on the State Board of Elections website.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a law passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo says anyone who is registered to vote can request an absentee ballot to vote by mail in the November 3 election.  

The New York State Board of Elections says the cut off date for requesting the absentee ballots by mail, email or telephone is October 27. The Board warns though, that the United States Postal Service says, due to recent cutbacks, that they cannot guarantee timely delivery of ballots that are requested 15 or fewer days before the election. That makes the defacto deadline October 19.

The ballots must be postmarked by November 3, Election Day. They can also be hand delivered to an early polling site between October 24 and November 1.

Voters can still go in person to their local or state boards of elections through November 2, the day before elections, to request an absentee ballot.

That’s a lot of dates to remember, and so groups, including the New York State League of Women Voters have compiled key information on their websites. The League also launched a national website, Vote411, to help guide voters through their state’s rules.

The group’s Jennifer Wilson said all of the interest in voting, in one of the most hotly contested presidential elections in recent history, can only be good for democracy.

“I’m definitely optimistic, I’m excited to see high levels of turnout,” said Wilson, who said New York usually has one of the lowest rates of voter participation in the nation.  

Once the expected record number of mail-in ballots arrive at board of elections offices, it’s likely that more of them will be counted than in the past. New York has historically had one of the highest numbers of absentee ballots disqualified on minor technical errors. But a recently settled lawsuit initiated by the League of Women Voters will allow more of the ballots to be considered valid.

Wilson said the agreement will prevent ballots being thrown out for very minor technical glitches, including if the voter marked outside of the designated signature area, if they filled out their ballot in pencil instead of black or blue ink, or if they sealed the inner affirmation envelope with tape instead of licking it closed.

“All of those things used to allow your ballot to get thrown out,” Wilson said. “But now, those things will no longer cause your ballot to be disqualified.”

Voters will also be able to correct any problems with their signatures. Sometimes the voter signatures on file are decades old, and their handwriting may have changed over time. Now, voters will be given an opportunity to verify that it is indeed them signing the ballot.  

In addition to voting by mail, voters also have the option of going in-person to cast their ballots early. Early voting begins October 24 and runs through November 1, at selected sites across the state.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.