ALBANY (CN) — With 75 five days before the 2020 presidential election, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law Thursday a package of reforms that will let New Yorkers immediately request an application to vote by mail and ensure that all absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day on Nov. 3 will be counted if received up to a week later.
“The federal administration has ordered an unprecedented attack on the U.S. Postal Service and with Covid-19 threatening our ability to have safe, in-person voting, these measures are critical to ensuring a successful and fair election at one of the most important moments in our nation’s history,”Cuomo announced Thursday.
“These actions will further break down barriers to democracy and will make it easier for all New Yorkers to exercise their right to vote this November,” the Democratic governor added.
The passage of New York laws strengthening mail-in voting comes the same week that Louis DeJoy, the new Trump-appointed postmaster general, announced that disruptive and controversial cost-cutting initiatives slowing down mail delivery would be delayed until after the election.
“It’s critical we learn the lessons of the primary election and ensure every valid vote counts in November,” Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris said in a statement Thursday. “The bill being signed today will help insulate voters from problems caused by difficulties with the US Postal Service,” he added.
Anticipating potential delays in the delivery of absentee ballots, the three-part package bolsters New York residents’ capacity to cast their vote by mail during the Covid-19 pandemic by guaranteeing all absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day will be counted if received by November 10, a full week after Election Day.
The bill also allows absentee ballots missing postmarks to be counted if received by the Board of Elections up to the day after Election Day, adding a day to the previous policy.
Gianaris, a Democratic representing western Queens, introduced the postmark-date bill to the state Senate on July 16 and delivered to the governor on August 10.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the state Board of Elections to count thousands of invalidated mail-in ballots from the New York’s Democratic primary election six weeks earlier in June.
U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres issued the order after holding two days of evidentiary hearings, during which Douglas Kellner, commissioner of the New York state Board of Elections, conceded that absentee ballots placed in a U.S. mailboxes on Election Day after the last pick-up time would not be postmarked that same day.
Brooklyn assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte said Thursday the mail-in voting legislation protects the integrity of democratic process and enfranchises New York voters.
“We saw unprecedented absentee voter turnout during the primary, but because of financial challenges at the United States Postal Service, many ballots did not receive timely postmarks. We must rise to the occasion and make sure that voters across the state can safely and effectively cast their votes,” Bichotte wrote.
“This legislation will help to address problems with the Post Office, by ensuring that absentee ballots that do not receive a postmark are considered timely if they are received by the Board of Elections the day after an election,” she added.
Previously voters could not request absentee ballots until 30 days before Election Day, but Thursday’s legislation overrides that, instead authorizing voters to request absentee ballots immediately, adding nearly seven weeks to the amount of time voters have to vote by absentee ballot.
The third piece of the legislative package signs into law voters’ rights to request an absentee ballot due to risk of illness to themselves or others.
All registered voters in New York are also able to cast their ballots in the general election at early voting sites beginning October 24, through November 1, 2020.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee on Sunday demanded that Postmaster DeJoy testify at an emergency oversight hearing August 24 on mail delays as concerns grow that the Trump White House is trying to undermine the Postal Service during the coronavirus pandemic while states expand mail-in voting options for the November presidential election.
After months of casting doubt upon the security of the mail-in voting, Trump himself employed the method to cast a vote in Florida this week, in a primary election that saw more than 2.2 million Floridians also voting by mail.