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New Bill Would Speed Up Absentee Ballot Counting Process in N.Y.

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John Froschauer
/
AP

While voters in New York wait for absentee ballots to be counted to decide the final outcome in several competitive races across the state, a top Democrat in the state Legislature has introduced legislation that would speed up the process for future elections.

The legislation would allow local boards of elections to begin counting absentee ballots on Election Day, rather than waiting several days to start the process.

The measure is sponsored by Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens. He said this year’s drawn-out election process, which isn’t expected to conclude until later this month, was the impetus for the bill.

“There is no good excuse for election results to continue to be up in the air weeks and months after people have already cast their votes,” Gianaris said.

Under the bill, absentee ballots would be validated, or approved, by elections officials when they arrive at the local board of elections prior to Election Day. That way, those ballots wouldn’t have to be authorized before they’re counted.

The legislation would allow absentee ballots to be counted as early as three hours before polls are scheduled to close on Election Day. The results of those ballots would be kept private until the polls close, but may be released that night if the counting has concluded.

To protect against a potential situation where an individual attempts to vote twice — both in-person and by absentee — voters will be required to surrender their absentee ballot if they attempt to vote in person, or will be required to vote with an affidavit ballot.

Absentee ballots would still be accepted until a week after Election Day, under the bill, as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day. That’s currently part of the state’s election law.

More than 1.2 million people had returned an absentee ballot to their local board of elections as of Nov. 2, the day before Election Day this year. That’s more than triple the number received in the 2016 presidential election.

But this year is also different because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo administratively changed the rules for voting by absentee this year to allow all voters in New York to vote by mail due to risk of contracting COVID-19. That’s usually not the case.

That led to a surge in absentee ballot requests across the state, which local boards of elections had to process while simultaneously preparing for the second year of early voting, and an anticipated huge turnout on Election Day.

With Election Day over, several local boards of elections are now working to tabulate the voting totals from absentee ballots, which are expected to determine several competitive races across the state with razor-thin margins of victory.

Some counties have already started counting absentee ballots, while others aren’t expected to begin the process until next week. Final, certified results for all counties in New York aren’t expected to be released until closer to the end of November.