We are in the middle of an election season like no other.
Though much is different because of the COVID pandemic, we still have a critical opportunity to make sure every eligible New Yorker’s voice is heard, and every vote is counted.
There is plenty of time to vote, and three ways to do it in New York, and the NYCLU and other voting rights organizations are here to help. Also, Americans have been voting by mail effectively for decades. New Yorkers should remember this amidst all the fear mongering and misinformation from Trump and others who want to sow doubt about our election results.
To be sure, we will have to adjust our usual expectations and assumptions about how to vote, where to vote, and when we’ll know the election results because the pandemic has changed the way many of us vote. But that just means it’s especially helpful to have a plan before you vote.
With this in mind, here are four things to know this election season.
Three Ways to Vote
This year, New York voters can either vote early, via absentee ballot, or on Election Day.
You can vote early between Saturday, October 24 and Sunday, November 1. Early voting offers several benefits. While your early voting site is probably not the same as your Election Day poll site, it’s probably more spacious. Poll workers – outfitted with masks and gloves – will have time to answer your questions. And by voting early in-person, you’ll help make polling places safe and more efficient on Election Day. Finally, because you’re voting in-person, there’s very little chance for your ballot to be rejected.
Unlike in years past when you could only vote absentee under narrow circumstances, this year the pandemic provides a basis for every New Yorker to receive an absentee ballot. If you plan to cast your ballot by absentee voting, you should request your ballot and return it as soon as possible. The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is Tuesday, October 27.
New Yorkers should have confidence in absentee voting, but voting this way carries a higher risk of your ballot not counting than in-person voting. There is a chance your ballot gets lost or delayed in transit, and absentee ballot rejection rates in New York are among the highest in the nation every election.
With that said, in the past few months, lawmakers put in place safeguards to ensure more ballots get counted, including a procedure to correct your absentee ballot if you make a mistake and the opportunity to count some ballots that don’t receive postmarks.
New Yorkers who vote on Election Day can take advantage of the fact that New York offers voters the longest Election Day polling hours in the nation. But longer lines can form at polling sites at peak times—in the morning and the evening.
If you plan to vote on Election Day, go at an off-peak time in the middle of the day if you can. Under New York law, your employer must provide you with up to two hours paid time off to vote as long as you give them two working days in advance.
One stamp for absentee ballots
If you vote absentee, your ballot should have one stamp on it. With that said, even ballot envelopes with no postage should be delivered, according to a recent court order from a federal district judge. Just to be safe though, it’s best to put a stamp on your ballot envelope before you mail it in.
Even if you mail in an absentee ballot, you can still vote in person
This is a complicated time, and it’s reasonable for New Yorkers’ plans and expectations to change. If you vote absentee and then decide you’d rather vote in person, you can still do so. If you go to a poll site, on Election Day or during early voting and vote in person, your absentee ballot will not be counted.
We likely won’t know the results on Election Day
The pandemic means millions more people will vote absentee this November than in previous years. Those ballots will take longer to tabulate than votes cast in-person, which means we very likely won’t know the winners on election night. It could be weeks or even months before all the ballots are counted.
That’s OK. It is more important that we get the vote totals right and that every vote is counted, than for us to know the results quickly.
Want to know more? Get additional election information and learn your voting rights.