Victory! New York Passes Law to Protect Absentee Voters from Ballot Rejection

Issues
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Absentee ballot close up
Photo by Bill Oxford

As New York voters increasingly rely on the state’s absentee voting system to cast their ballots during COVID-19, more New York voters will be at risk of disenfranchisement because the state erroneously rejects their ballot for issues that have nothing to do with their eligibility.

In the 2018 general election, state election officials discarded more than 34,000 absentee ballots – or about 14% of all absentee ballots cast. While the precise figures are not yet available, very high rejection rates in the 2020 June primary have also been reported.

This is, in part, because the state had no process for notifying voters and giving them an opportunity to respond when their ballots are in danger of not being counted because of benign issues – like an omitted signature, writing the wrong date on a ballot, or a perceived discrepancy between the signature on a voter’s absentee ballot envelope and the one in their voter registration file.

Seeking a legal solution to this problem, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and pro bono partner Selendy & Gay are representing the League of Women Voters of the United States, the League of Women Voters of New York, and individual client Carmelina Palmer in a lawsuit, League of Women Voters v. Kosinski, filed July 8 against the state on the same issue.

The New York State Senate also took a significant step to address this, passing a bill providing voters an opportunity to resolve challenges to their absentee ballots and fixing a process that did not give voters notice that their ballot would be rejected.

The board of elections will be required to inform absentee voters by phone or email, as well as mail, of clerical errors with their ballot and give them an opportunity to fix it.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will have 10 days to sign or veto the bill, and if he takes no action by that point, then the bill automatically becomes law. The bill resolves many of the issues raised in the complaint, but the case remains ongoing. What’s clear is that this is a step in the right direction.

This reform is long overdue and will ensure voters are more confident that their ballot will be counted should they choose to vote absentee in November.

Corey handles media relations for the CLC voting rights and redistricting teams and creates online content.