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Will your absentee vote even be counted?

From contracting the virus to ballots not arriving to ballots not even being counted to (unsubstantiated) claims of voter fraud, New Yorkers have had many reasons be anxious about absentee voting during COVID-19. But according to Gothamist, shortly after Election Day, another reason popped up that no one had any idea would be a factor: envelopes with no postmark.

New York state law requires that absentee ballots be postmarked in order to be counted. Unfortunately, many ballots that arrived at boards of elections through the mail were not postmarked. In some cases, it appears that post office staff believed that postmarking was inconsistent with agency policy. It’s still unclear how many ballots were not postmarked.

According to Douglas Czarny, an officer at the New York State Elections Commissioners Association, boards of elections are bound by law, and the law states that an absentee ballots must be postmarked in order to be counted. To quote the article, “That means tossing ballots not only if the voter did something wrong but also if the post office did.”

Numerous states have proven that vote by mail can work and is actually likely to result in higher voter turn-out. But mail voting will only strengthen democracy if we do it right – and New York seems to do it wrong every time.

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The Board of Elections was required by law to issue a report by June 1st on how ranked-choice voting would be implemented. Over a month later, there’s still no report, writes Gotham Gazette. The absence of a plan by the BOE creates a number of problems, such as delaying the commencement of the six-month process needed to certify new ballot printers, poll books, and optical scanners designed for ranked-choice voting. Without the BOE’s implementation report, there is also less time to develop a plan to educate candidates and voters on the nuances of ranked-choice voting. June 2021 is still a ways off, but special elections might be held as early as March. It remains to be seen whether the BOE will make an effort to get the report out soon and put ranked-choice voting back on track.

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In case you needed a reminder of why New York City should ease restrictions on online voter registration, look no further than the alarming dip in voter registration numbers seen during the first half of 2020. According to The City, about 80,000 residents registered to vote during the first six months of 2020, which amounts to roughly half the number of voters who registered during the same period in 2019. That figure comes despite the fact that voter registrations through February were 27% higher than during the 2016 presidential cycle, signaling that New York City’s voter enthusiasm may have fizzled when stay-at-home orders were issued in March.

Without a way to register in person, many New York City residents are learning that they cannot register to vote at all. Alternative voter registration methods, which include mailing a completed registration form to the Board of Elections or registering online, ensure that those without a printer or a state ID are effectively locked out of the registration system. One way the city could get more voters to register is to lift the online registration portal’s ID requirement. While the Campaign Finance Board has already built a website that can process registrations using only an e-signature and the last four digits of a resident’s social security number, the Board of Elections’ requirements for a physical signature effectively blocks the site from being used. 

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In 2018, the New York State Senate saw a changing of the guard when the Republican party lost its majority to Democrats. Though the new majority represented shifting voter priorities, it also forced real estate developer interest groups to shift strategies (like choosing whom to support) in order to gain favor with the Democrats they had opposed in elections prior. 

Unfortunately for renters concerned that politicians could trade tenant rights for large contributions, the Times Union has learned that real estate developers are now signing big checks to Democratic candidates in attempts to establish a friendly working relationship with the new guard. That includes a total of $375,000 spent on two tight Democratic state Senate races during New York’s June 23 primary, with $200,500 alone being spent to support Senate District 38 candidate Elijah Reichlin-Melnick and attack his opponent, Justin Sweet.

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In the previous edition of The Take, we mentioned how the repeal of police secrecy law 50-a was a major step towards improving police transparency. But we also pointed out that the fight was far from over since police departments could still use loopholes to stall the release of misconduct reports or turn the task of obtaining them into lengthy legal battles. Thanks to a barrage of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by MuckRock, we now know that the battle has begun. After the June 12 repeal of 50-a, MuckRock submitted FOIA requests to each city, town, and village police department in the state of New York. At least 12 state police departments have responded with claims that they possess no records of misconduct at any point in the last 50 years. While these claims seem dubious, the fact that over half of MuckRock’s FOIA requests have gone unanswered is a testament to how much further New York will need to go in order to get full police transparency.

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