ALBANY – The New York State Elections Commissioner Association is calling for immediate action by the governor and state legislature to protect the electoral process during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elections boards throughout the state are risking personnel safety and health to prepare for impending elections on April 28, the association said. The local election boards are facing a shortage of inspectors and polling places due to the ongoing public health crisis. Over the next week, boards of elections will find it almost impossible to meet mission-critical deadlines for testing machines and preparing ballots because of staff shortages due to the ongoing stay-at-home order, the association said.
State Senator James Skoufis (D, Woodbury) announced last week that he would introduce legislation to push back the presidential primary to June 23 to align with the state and congressional primary elections. “Time is of the essence to act proactively and keep New Yorkers safe,” said Skoufis. “Moving the primary to June will give communities more time to keep resources where they are essential and minimize unnecessary group contact.”
The elections commissioner group, meanwhile, is asking Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to consider the following items by either executive order or legislative action:
- Postponing the Democratic Presidential Primary scheduled for April 28th to June
23rd. Fielding inspectors in the midst of this health crisis is dangerous and may be
impossible. Traditional polling places may be unusable as they are currently restricted or
closed to the public. Postponing until June will not only give us time to plan but will ease the burdens on host counties budgets that are devastated by the COVID-19 crisis.
- Amend 8-400 of NYS Election Law to allow for absentee balloting during all times
of declared state of emergency due to infectious disease or pandemic. This will allow
all voters who are at-risk but perhaps not yet sick to apply for and receive an absentee
ballot. At-risk or vulnerable citizens should not have to make decisions on whether to
exercise their right to vote or risk their health.
- For all primary and special elections, the association suggests giving wide latitude to the local board of elections to consolidate polling places and election districts to best operate the election.
Beth Soto, the Dutchess County Democratic Election commissioner, indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a “very challenging” environment surrounding the upcoming elections. “Most of the buildings we used for poll sites are closed to the public,” Soto said, adding “Many of our poll workers understandably told us they did not want to work the elections because of fear of exposure.”
Soto noted that many voters for the April 28 election have requested absentee ballots even though they plan on being in Dutchess on the day of the election. “We are powerless to react appropriately to voters’ concerns and to protect poll workers until our governor and the state legislature address the issue of holding an election in the midst of an epidemic.”
The Dutchess County Board of Elections is remaining open but contact between voters and staff has been limited due to the number of people infected by the virus.