CC/NY, CPC, CLSJ + CIDNY: "Voters Need Options- NY Can Not Eliminate In Person Early Voting"

Disability + immigrants rights groups caution against going 100% vote by mail per Gov's EO

NEW YORK, NY (04/22/2020) (readMedia)-- In response to news that Governor Cuomo plans to issue an executive order to mandate 100% vote by mail in NY, Common Cause/NY, the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC), the Center for Law and Social Justice, and the The Center for Independence of the Disabled New Yorkers (CIDNY) held a press conference call to warn against eliminating all in-person voting for the June and November elections. Cuomo's executive order means that Boards of Election across the state are required to send eligible voters ballots in the mail. Disabled voters, voters who require language access, and voters who don't have regular mail service, need in-person options or else risk being disenfranchised.

LISTEN to the press call here.

"Jumping to an entire vote by mail system in New York state is setting up our elections for failure. States with vote by mail have spent years building up the infrastructure to sustain it from updating their voter rolls, to setting up secure dropoff locations, to creating protocols to compile and count every ballot. New York needs to expand absentee voting and early voting now to guarantee success in November, let alone June. We're hopeful that in a few years, we'll be able to transition to a vote by mail model, but right now in the middle of a pandemic New Yorkers do not need to be experimenting with a complete overhaul of our elections against the advice of all experts," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

"If New York State adopts a strictly vote-by-mail option, but does not provide accessible ballots in alternate formats like Braille or large print and in-person sites for those who need access to sip and puff or other technologies, it would disenfranchise many voters with disabilities. New York State must comply with federal and state Voting Rights laws that protect the franchise for people with disabilities," said Monica Bartley, Community Outreach Organizer at The Center for Independence of the Disabled NY (CIDNY).

"Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are a growing percentage of New York State's electorate. CPC supports new reforms that, when thoughtfully implemented, expand options for Limited English Proficient and newly naturalized voters. However, we caution decision makers in Albany against the false choice between the health of voters and the health of our democracy." said Amy Torres, Director of Policy & Advocacy at the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC). "Address data is not always responsive to the transience and displacement experienced by low-income, immigrant and AAPI communities. Pollsite changes have historically disproportionately harmed voters of Color, the elderly, disabled, and Limited English Proficient voters. New York must invest in expanding the options available to voters so that our democracy is not only healthy in the current crisis but stronger in the years ahead."

"The Center for Law and Social Justice is greatly concerned about the implementation of a complete vote by mail system. That's largely because of the remaining questions that have yet to be answered in a way that is comforting or empowering for those of our community members," said Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq. Interim Executive Director of the Center of Law and Social Justice.

In an April 15th New York Times interview the Secretary of State of Washington, Kim Wyman stated:

"In Washington State, we started by letting anyone do an absentee ballot for every election. And that was in 1993. By the late '90s, many counties like mine and here in Olympia, Thurston County, we're up to about 60 percent of our voters getting a ballot every election by mail. We would have some elections where 90 percent of our ballots were cast by mail, even in a poll site election. That continued until 2005, when we had a really close governor's race in '04, and our legislature allowed counties to move to vote-by-mail. And that really happened because that close governor's race showed that you couldn't do both elections well. You can't do a full-blown absentee ballot to every voter and set up all your polling places well because you're stretched too thin resource-wise. So essentially, our state wanted to move to vote-by-mail in 2005. It took five years to get all 39 of our counties to move to vote-by-mail."

Strictly vote by mail, without in-person sites, is a reach for New York since a successful program is dependent on the accuracy of the voter file. Common Cause/NY does not believe that the 58 Boards of Election (BOEs) have maintained up-to-date voter rolls. For example, in 2016, thousands of active Democratic voters were improperly moved to inactive status. If New York hastily institutes a vote by mail system, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers may never receive a ballot. Even in full vote by mail states, there remain in-person options for voters who require language assistance or voters with disabilities who require ballot marking devices.

Although Governor Cuomo correctly issued an executive order to expand absentee voting earlier this month, it does not replace the need for legislative action to codify these changes into law to protect voters in the November election and beyond. Common Cause/NY is calling for doubling early voting days from 9 to 18, as well as adding more poll sites to distribute and disperse voters. Other states, like Washington, give voters 18 days to cast their ballots early. With more time to vote and additional poll sites, voters will have more opportunities to cast their ballot safely.


At the end of March, Common Cause/NY released a white paper with recommendations for how New York elections can proceed during a pandemic, and the NYS Election Commissioners' Association released a letter outlining their same position to expand absentee voting and consolidate the primaries.

  • Common Cause/NY's recommendations:
  • [ENACTED] The April 28th presidential primary, and all other elections scheduled for that date, should be consolidated to the June 23rd primary given the escalating spread of the virus around the state. This will give local boards of elections much needed time to adjust their plans for early voting and election day.
  • [ENACTED] A uniform and measured expansion of the requirements to vote absentee extending the provisions of the Governor's Executive Order to make it easier for voters to request a ballot.
  • The process of requesting an absentee ballot requires voters to provide a mailing address where the ballot should be sent. This would dramatically increase the likelihood of a voter receiving their requested ballot. This would also provide BOEs an opportunity to update their voter file with the correct address.
  • Local boards of elections must immediately prepare to scale up for the expansion of absentee voting, which means:
    • developing a more robust ballot tracking process.
    • providing pre-paid postage for return envelopes.
    • designating an abundance of secure drop box locations that aren't just USPS mailboxes.
    • The state must allocate additional funds to deal with additional costs associated with printing, instituting new infrastructure, voter outreach and education, equipment maintenance, translation services, and staff training.
  • Maintain accomodations for in-person early voting and election day voting. For some voters, absentee voting is not feasible. This is particularly true for disabled voters who require the use of ballot marking devices such as those who are vision impaired, or have a disability or condition that would make it difficult or impossible to mark a ballot by hand as well as those who need access to translation services. Even '100% vote by mail states' like Washington still have in-person voting as an option during early voting and on election day.
  • Any in-person voting must be conducted in such a manner that voters, poll workers, and election administrators are kept safe and healthy by following the most recent CDC sanitary and mass gathering protocols. We recognize there may come a point when in-person voting must be significantly modified due to COVID-19.