This week, New Yorkers are waiting for a ruling from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether or not we will have the right vote in the June 23 presidential primary election. On April 27, 2020, the Democratic Commissioners of the NY State Board of Elections canceled the presidential primary. A federal judge reinstated the presidential primary on May 5, 2020, describing the State Board’s decision as “an authoritarian and illegal action that creates a horrible precedent for our democracy.” A decision on the appeal is expected this week, as the deadline is approaching for local election boards to place orders for ballots.
The NY State Board’s case hinges on the argument that canceling the presidential primary will keep poll workers safe. According to the State Board’s counsel, Judy Vale, only two of New York’s 62 counties (Franklin & Washington) will not hold elections if the presidential primary is canceled. Most, like Tompkins County, will still hold important elections for down ballot races like District Attorney and State Assembly on June 23. In fact, New York is the only state to have made the decision to take away the right to vote in the presidential primary. By contrast, 15 other states responded to the Covid-19 crisis by postponing their primaries or shifting to mail-in ballots (Source). Rather than cancel the presidential primary, the NY State Board could have joined forces with organizations like the League of Women Voters and local democratic committees to help spread the word about how to vote in what has become a very confusing election season.
Whether overturned by the appeals court or not, the State Board’s decision to cancel the presidential primary is a serious blow for our democracy. It has already caused disengagement among voters and will likely suppress voter turnout. Now, more than ever, we must do everything in our power to protect our democracy and encourage our neighbors to remain engaged in the democratic process. Voters' voices should be heard. To encourage engagement in the June elections here are some important details and clarifications.
Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order on April 24, 2020 expanded the right to vote by mail via an absentee ballot in the June 23 election to every eligible New York voter. The Board of Elections is in the process of mailing ballot applications to all individuals registered to vote in the June 23rd primary. The application is a self-mailer and includes a return postage that has already been paid. Individuals can also download an application directly from www.votetompkins.com to apply early or get a replacement.
When residents receive the absentee ballot application, they should 1) check the box indicating they want a ballot for the “June 23, 2020 Primary Election” and 2) check the box that says “Temporary Illness or Disability” as the reason for requesting an absentee ballot. After filling out the application in its entirety, individuals will need to sign and date it, and submit it by mail to the Tompkins County Board of Elections, 128 E. Buffalo Street, Ithaca, NY 14850, by email to email@example.com; or by fax to (607) 274-5533. Voters who have submitted an absentee ballot application will receive their ballots in the mail on or around May 22, 2020.
The last date to postmark an absentee ballot application is June 16th, however an individual can bring an application directly to the BOE as late as June 22nd, trade it in for a ballot, and vote at a booth on site (the BOE will be regulating how many people are in the building to ensure social distancing protocols).
If the presidential primary continues, everyone will get two separate ballots, one for the presidential and one for local elections. Both ballots can be sent in together in the same oath envelope and then in the return envelope. If there are multiple household members voting absentee, each member must send their packet of ballots separately.
If an individual has moved and wants to vote by absentee, they must send in an absentee ballot application with the new address by June 3rd, before the electronic poll books are put together for early voting. After this date requires voting by affidavit ballot, which can be requested during early voting or on election day.
Voting by mail with an absentee ballot will keep our poll workers safe, as fewer voters will need to vote in person on June 23. If you do not fill out a mail-in ballot, then you can still vote at the polls on or before June 23. Voters now have nine extra days to vote prior to the Primary Election, at special Early Voting locations: Town of Ithaca Town Hall, 215 N Tioga St, or Crash Fire Rescue (CFR), 72 Brown Rd. Everyone who is registered to vote in New York State, a resident of Tompkins County, and enrolled in a party holding a primary, is eligible to vote at one of our two Early Voting sites. For more details and hours of operation for early voting, Visit https://tompkinscountyny.gov/boe.
Finally, the last day for first time voters to register either in person or by mail is May 29th.
We are living in unprecedented times. It is critical for everyone to have a voice as we work to recover from this crisis. We must minimize confusion and barriers while maximizing choice and safety. Let’s all keep democracy alive this primary season by voting.
Tompkins County Legislature
Candidate for the NY State Assembly 125th