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Common Cause says NY must alter primary voting

Common Cause New York says a logical solution exists to ensure all registered voters in the state can participate in the upcoming primaries as well as make voting easier in future elections.

Common Cause believes the coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible for the Board of Elections to distribute absentee ballots and prepare for the April 28 Democratic primary and special election.

Thus, the organization has suggested consolidating the April 28 primary with the June 23 legislative and congressional primary, which would also provide time to expand the absentee ballot program without moving to a total vote-by-mail system.

“During uncertain times democracy doesn’t pause — it has to evolve,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said. “New York lawmakers can put the health of voters — and the integrity of our voting system — first by first consolidating our election primary from April to June and also expanding absentee voting.”

The organization also says that while vote-by-mail may be the wave of the future, New York can never totally abandon in-person polling because some citizens would be excluded from voting. Common Cause cited polling procedures used by Colorado and California as prime examples of a successful vote-by-mail system.

Some legislators have suggested voting be done by mail in the April 28 primary. That would require an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo or legislative action. However, Lerner says a successful absentee and vote-by-mail system requires an accurate database of registered voters.

“Common Cause New York unfortunately does not believe that the 58 Boards of Elections have maintained up-to-date and accurate voter records,” Lerner said during a conference call last week. “In 2016, thousands of active Democratic voters were improperly moved to inactive status.”

That means those voters would never receive a ballot by mail and would not be able to vote.

“Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers may never receive a ballot,” she said.

State Sen. Alexandra Biaggi, D-Bronx, has submitted legislation to amend the state constitution, allowing voter fears surrounding a state-of-emergency health crisis as a valid reason for obtaining an absentee ballot.

Common Cause is on board with the proposal, and says it would actually pave the way for long-term vote-by-mail procedures.

“An expansion of an absentee voting system by mail is a reasonable stopgap measure on the way to vote-by-mail eventually,” Lerner said.

But there will always be voters who need in-person polling. For some voters, absentee voting is not feasible, Common Cause says. The organization said that’s true for disabled voters who require the use of ballot marking devices 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.

Colorado began using a vote-by-mail system in 2013, and in the most recent election 92 percent of voters received their ballot by mail. However, 73 percent still dropped off the completed ballot in person at a polling place, said Amanda Gonzalez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause.

In 2018, California implemented a system based on the Colorado model but counties have the choice of whether to opt in. In 2020, 14 counties will use vote-by-mail, said Kiyana Asemanfar, policy manager for California Common Cause.

The California ballots also allow voters to track their ballot right to the time it is counted, sort of like the tracking of a package.

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