By Lisa Scott
Every state has its own election laws. New York State’s laws have been more restrictive than many others, although progress has been made in the past few years. In-person early voting commenced in 2019 and absentee ballot eligibility expanded in 2020 to anyone who has concerns due to COVID-19. We now have electronic (iPad-style) poll books and during early voting customized ballots for each voter are printed.
Your vote will count in November if you educate yourself, develop a voting plan with others if possible, and plan ahead. Waiting until the last minute, particularly with an absentee ballot, increases the odds of your missing deadlines or making a paperwork mistake with no time for correction.
Fortunately, in New York State you have several options for casting your ballot: Absentee Ballots, Early Voting, and Election Day Voting. Follow the steps below, and call the Suffolk County Board of Elections (SCBOE) at 631-852-4500 or, if you have a simple question, call the League of Women Voters (LWV) at 631-862-6860. The LWV is non-partisan, not affiliated with the Board of Elections and cannot give you election advice.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered all Boards of Elections in NYS to mail a letter to all households with registered voters in early September. The letter will give polling place information, details for early voting, and an explanation of the absentee ballot process for the November elections.
You must be registered in order to vote. You may register if you will be 18 years of age by Election Day, a resident of the county for at least 30 days prior to the election, and a citizen of the United States. 16 and 17 year-olds can now pre-register to vote, but will not be able to vote until they are 18. You may only vote in one state. If you have moved within the state since the last time you voted, you will be able to vote via affidavit ballot in your new election district, but re-registering with your new address before Oct. 9 is advisable.
Registration forms are available at the Board of Elections, post offices and libraries. Online voter registration is possible via the DMV website if you are already in their website. You can call 1-800-FOR-VOTE hotline to request a voter application. You can download and print a form from the New York State Board of Elections (NYSBOE) homepage link Need a Voter Registration Form. The deadline to register is Oct. 9. (If mailed your registration form must be postmarked by that date.) The registration form includes a place where you can also immediately request an absentee ballot.
Absentee Ballot Voting
Unlike June primary voting: Absentee ballot applications will not automatically be sent to everyone – you must apply for one! The deadline to apply is October 27 – DO NOT WAIT – You may apply NOW.
The fastest, simplest, method is online! NYSBOE has introduced an online form at absenteeballot.elections.ny.gov. You only need to enter your county, name, date of birth and zip code. Within seconds you will receive a printable absentee ballot confirmation and number.
You may also email, fax or telephone your request for an absentee ballot to the SCBOE. Details are at https://suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/BOE/Absentee-Voting-FAQ. When you receive your ballot follow all instructions.
Fill it out, sign and enclose the oath envelope, apply postage and mail as soon as you can. You may also (in person, or via a friend or relative) bring the SEALED ballot to the SCBOE in Yaphank or to any Suffolk early voting site during open hours, or to your polling place on November 3.
The BOE must now send a letter to the voter within 24 hours of receipt of an absentee ballot with a problem (e.g. no signature). You should send your ballot in early so that, the BOE would have time to alert you of a problem and you would be able to correct the issue before deadlines.
The Board of Elections will start mailing out absentee ballots Sept. 18. This cannot be done until the candidate list is certified. After you’ve submitted your absentee ballot, you can call the SCBOE to confirm your ballot was received. If you had requested an absentee ballot due to COVID-19 in June, you still MUST reapply for November 2020. NYS absentee ballot application rules for 2021 have not yet been determined.
In New York State, unlike most other states, you can still vote in person even if you voted on an absentee ballot. The absentee ballot will be discarded by the BOE if you’ve already voted in person. Absentee ballots will be counted beginning 48 hours after Election Day. Absentee ballot voter names will be checked against the electronic poll book before being processed.
There are 12 Early Voting sites in Suffolk County. Registered Suffolk County voters may vote at ANY of the 12 sites during the Early Voting period. This is possible because of the new electronic poll books, and ballots that are printed on demand for each voter. All NYS counties have the same 9 early voting dates (Sat. Oct. 24 to Sun. Nov. 1), but times each day vary. No one can vote in person on Nov. 2.
To vote on Election Day in person
Polls are open on Nov. 3 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Suffolk County. Look up your voter registration and polling place online to reconfirm all is in order. You can do that via the NYSBOE homepage link Find Out if you are Registered and Where to Vote.
The best on-line sources of information are VOTE411.org (select your state and you can register to vote, find your polling place, see what’s on your ballot and learn about the candidates) and the New York State Board of Elections at elections.ny.gov.
Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.