Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order intended to bolster the right to vote on Monday, as anxiety mounts amid congressional scrutiny of the United States Postal Service and President Trump's repeated assertions that voting by mail will result in electoral fraud.
The order requires county boards of elections to take five actions. They are to send a mailing outlining all voting deadlines and instructions for getting absentee ballots by Sept. 8, report staffing plans and needs to the New York State Board of Elections by Sept. 20 so that it can assist in ensuring adequate coverage, and adopt a redesigned, uniform envelope for absentee ballots, which counties will be required to use, to eliminate confusion about where to sign absentee ballots.
The order also requires that all objections made by the county board are done so in real time, and requires boards to be ready to count votes and reconcile affidavit and absentee ballots within 48 hours after elections. Finally, the order mandates the provision for voters to vote absentee in village, town, and special district elections.
Monday's action follows Mr. Cuomo's signing into law a three-part package of election reforms last Thursday. It includes new measures allowing absentee ballot applications to be submitted to the Board of Elections immediately, allowing voters to receive an absentee ballot because of risk or fear of illness including Covid-19, and ensuring that all absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day, or received by the board of elections without a postmark on the day after the election, will be counted. Ballots with a postmark demonstrating that they were mailed on or before Election Day will be counted if received by Nov. 10.
"I signed legislation last week allowing all voters to request absentee ballots if they are concerned about Covid," the governor wrote on Twitter on Monday. "No need to wait: You can request an absentee ballot today. Everyone should be able to exercise the fundamental right to vote without risking their health."
In a statement issued after he signed last Thursday's election reforms, the governor said that "The federal administration has ordered an unprecedented attack on the U.S. Postal Service and with Covid-19 threatening our ability to have safe, in-person voting, these measures are critical to ensuring a successful and fair election at one of the most important moments in our nation's history."
In another statement on Monday, the governor alluded to the "controversial" upcoming election. "You already hear the statements questioning the vote, and the accuracy of the vote, and mail-in ballots," he said. "We want to make sure that every vote is counted, every voice is heard, and that it's fair and right and accurate. I'm issuing today's executive order because we want boards of elections to count votes efficiently and we want them to get it right, but we want it done in a timely manner. We don't want to hear after-the-fact excuses."
In Suffolk County, eligible voters have the option of voting by absentee ballot, in person during an early voting period that runs from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1, or in person on Nov. 3, an official in the Republican commissioner's office at the Suffolk County Board of Elections said on Aug. 18.
An absentee ballot application can be downloaded from the board of elections website. Links to the application, in English and Spanish, are at suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/BOE. Voters can also request an application by sending an email to the board of elections at [email protected], or by calling the board of elections at 631-852-4500.
In the Town of East Hampton, early voting will happen at the Windmill Village housing complex at 219 Accabonac Road in East Hampton. Early voting in the Town of Southampton will happen at the Stony Brook University campus.
Hours for early voting are not uniform. Polling stations will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 26, from noon to 8 p.m. on Oct. 27 and 30, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 28 and 29.
"As of right now, all polling locations will be open on Election Day," the board of elections official said.
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle wrote to the Democratic and Republican commissioners at the county board of elections on Aug. 19 to voice their concern that early voting had been eliminated on Shelter Island. Last year, the State Legislature authorized early voting statewide during a nine-day period before any general, primary, or special election, they wrote, and the board of elections designated an early voting site in each of the county's 10 towns.
"While we were pleased to see the designation of two additional early voting locations in Suffolk County for the 2020 general election, we find it unacceptable that there is no longer a designated early voting location in the Town of Shelter Island," they said. The exclusion of Shelter Island "is simply discriminatory to its residents and will effectively eliminate the early voting option for many."
"I sometimes kid the elected officials and my friends on Shelter Island about it being 'the Independent Nation of Shelter Island,' " Mr. Thiele said on Monday. "But the laws of New York do apply. Shelter Island shouldn't be denied the right to early voting, particularly this year, given the ongoing pandemic and the potential for more people living there than in prior years.╙
"Some people don't want to go to the polls on Election Day," he said. "They don't trust the post office, necessarily, at this point. Early voting is an option everyone should have, and you should not have to get on a ferry and pay a fare to do it."
The board of elections official did not reply to an email seeking comment.