Absentee Ballots & the COVID-19 PandemicABSENTEE BALLOTS AND THE COVID- 19 PANDEMIC
Issues related absentee ballots, mail in ballots and early voting are constantly being discussed on radio, television, on the internet and in the newspapers. Over the past few years new laws have been passed at the state and federal level in an attempt to enhance voter participation. For the most part these laws relate to the elections conducted under the state’s Election Law and conducted by the County Board of Elections. There is no early voting for fire district elections.
The ability of voters to vote by absentee ballots in elections conducted by the County Board of Elections has been modified by new laws and by executive orders.
There is currently no requirement to provide absentee ballots for the December 8th fire district elections.
However, on August 24th Governor Cuomo signed Executive Order 202.58 which addressed providing more opportunities for casting a ballot by absentee ballot. It included the following provision;
NOW THEREFORE, I, Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York, by virtue of the authority vested in me by Section 29-a of Article 2-B of the Executive Law to temporarily suspend or modify any statute, local law, ordinance, order, rule, or regulation, or parts thereof, of any agency during a State disaster emergency, if compliance with such statute, local law, ordinance, order, rule, or regulation would prevent, hinder, or delay action necessary to cope with the disaster emergency or if necessary to assist or aid in coping with such disaster, do hereby suspend or modify the following through September 23, 2020:
Sections 15-120 and 15-122 of the Election Law, Sections 2018-a and 2018-b of the Education Law, and Section 84-a of the Town Law, as well as any provision of law related to a special district election taking place prior to November 3, 2020, and not administered by the County Board of Elections to the extent necessary to include the potential for contraction of the COVID-19 virus as an illness for purposes of request or receipt of an absentee ballot;
Thus, it would appear that the Governor has made absentee ballots mandatory for any special district election which occurs prior to November 3rd .
Any fire district which conducts a special election between September 15th and November 3rd will therefore be required to provide absentee ballots as outlined in the Executive Order.
As you will recall, a prior executive order had delayed all summer special district elections until September 15th .
One question that arises with regard to Executive Order 202.58 is how does a fire district holding a special election go about setting up the process to permit absentee ballot voting?
In theory, the executive order would suspend Town Law §175-b which permits, but does not require a fire district to provide for absentee voting.
It would appear that a fire district conducting a special election between September 15th and November 3rd should place a statement in the election legal notice that in accordance with Executive Order 202.58 issued by Governor Cuomo on August 24, 2020 absentee ballots will be available for registered voters of the fire district who are concerned with the spread of COVID- 19 and would like to vote by absentee ballot. The notice should also explain a process to request, obtain and return an absentee ballot.
Again, let us emphasize that as of this date no Executive Order has been issued pertaining to the fire district elections that will occur in December 8th .
We will continue to keep you advised on developments related to this matter.