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New York appellate court OKs universal mail-in voting

A challenge to last year's expansion of mail-in voting by prominent state Republicans failed at the appellate level.

(CN) — A New York appellate court upheld universal mail-in voting for the state Thursday, finding that the state's constitution places no hard limits on who can cast an absentee ballot. 

"The fact remains that, in its current form, the NY Constitution contains no requirement — express or implied — mandating that voting occur in-person on election day," Justice Michael C. Lynch of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division's third judicial department wrote in the court’s order.

The court affirmed the Supreme Court in Albany County’s decision to dismiss a complaint brought by Republican lawmakers and operatives which argued that the New York Early Mail Voter Act was unconstitutional. 

The act — which allows any New York voter to request and submit a mail-in ballot — was signed in to law in September 2023 and has already been applied to the state’s April 2nd presidential primary. 

New York previously required voters to select an excuse when applying for a mail-in ballot, including being absent from home, sick or disabled. Fear of Covid-19 was briefly added to these excuses in 2020. An earlier proposed amendment seeking to enshrine no-excuse absentee voting in the state constitution failed at the ballot box in 2021.

GOP U.S. Representatives Elise Stefanik, Nicole Malliotakis, Nicholas Langworthy and Claudia Tenney joined several other Republican elected officials, voters and the party’s state and national committees in a suit seeking to overturn the law on the day it passed.

They argued that the law violated an article in the state constitution that allows for the legislature to provide for absentee voting, but lays out a number of conditions, like absence or disability, which might justify such voting. The challengers argued that this article afforded for absentee voting only if one of those conditions was met. 

Lynch found that argument unconvincing. He pointed to the history of the clause as evidence against the plaintiffs’ interpretation of it. It was enacted, he noted, by a constitutional amendment in response to a Civil War push to allow Union soldiers to vote absentee.  Subsequent amendments in the early 20th century made numerous changes to the section, each framed as efforts to increase voter participation. 

He disagreed with the plaintiffs' argument that these amendments, by expressing who is entitled to vote absentee, excludes others from also voting by mail.

“There has been no express provision in the constitution mandating in-person voting since January 1, 1967," he added. "We note that, since the repeal of the Election District Provision, the Legislature has passed three statutes expanding absentee voting … all without resort to constitutional amendments.” 

An argument that Article II of the state constitution granted authority to the legislature to prescribe the “manner of voting” to not include mail-in voting as a possibility fared no better with Lynch.

The plaintiffs had cited a 1909 Court of Appeals decision, People ex rel. Deister v. Wintermute, but Lynch frowned on their “seizing on the underscored language, written in an entirely different context 100 years ago when voting machines were just being introduced.” 

Stefanik responded to the decision on X, formerly Twitter.

“Today’s ruling by the Appellate Division is shameful and unconstitutional,” she wrote. “New York Democrats are illegally jamming through an unconstitutional law that harms election integrity, all while our Far Left Democrat-run courts go right along with it.”

Categories / Elections, Government

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