Assembly Passes Legislation to allow N.Y. to More Safely Conduct Elections During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Speaker Carl Heastie and Election Law Committee Chair Latrice Walker today announced the Assembly has passed a package of legislation that will help make conducting elections safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “Ensuring our elections are free and fair and safe is critical to our democracy,” Speaker Heastie said. “These bills will help make it safer for candidates, those conducting elections and for the people of New York to participate in the democratic process. The Assembly Majority will keep working to ensure our election laws allow New Yorkers to fully and safely participate in the electoral process.”

“COVID-19 has changed every aspect of our lives,” Assemblymember Walker said. “We must also adjust election law to reflect the reality of living during a pandemic, and the need to maintain social distance while still keeping all necessary elements accessible and efficient. These changes to petitioning and allowing virtual designations and nominations will help us do that.”

Two bills that passed today would adjust the petitioning process in order to get on the ballot, so that less person to person contact is required for those wishing to serve in elected office. The first bill would reduce the number of signatures required for an independent nomination petition to 50 percent for elections held in 2021. This will facilitate safer campaigns and will limit potential exposure to COVID-19 as elections are held this coming year. The provision will expire December 31, 2021 (A.4686, Burgos.)

“As we continue to manage the public health crisis in our state, we need to make sure our laws reflect that as well,” Assemblymember Kenny Burgos said. “By limiting the number of signatures required for independent candidates to get on the ballot, we limit potential exposure to a deadly virus without limiting ballot access.”

The second bill relating to the petitioning process would remove the option to file an opportunity to ballot petition for the June 2021 primary election. Under New York State law, if only one candidate files petitions for a party nomination, they are assumed to have the nomination and the race does not appear on the primary ballot. Opportunity to ballot petitioning collects signatures, not for a candidate, but for the ability to write someone else’s name in, which requires the primary to appear on the ballot. Eliminating this process will avoid unnecessary petitioning as well as the need for boards of elections across the state to hold a primary, including nine days of early voting, for a primary with only one candidate (A.4447, Gallagher).

“During a pandemic, we should not be forcing a primary when there is only one candidate running for a particular party nomination,” Assemblymember Emily Gallagher said. “This will help keep New Yorkers safe and reduce the strain on boards of elections that have been working to ensure that every voter can exercise their constitutional right to vote.”

Current election law does not allow nominations and designations to be made using video conferencing. Legislation passed today would allow video conferencing to be used in the process of party designations and nominations, except for those made at a primary election. It allows for up to 10 proxies to be carried by an eligible person at such a party meeting unless a committee’s rules provide for more (A.4364, Lupardo).

“We must make it safer to conduct elections during this public health crisis, and it cannot be at the expense of the democratic process,” Assemblymember Donna Lupardo said. “By allowing nominations and designations to occur virtually, this important step for candidates can be maintained while still keeping each other safe.”

Another bill the Assembly passed would allow members of a county committee whose terms are expiring in 2021 to remain in office for an additional one year term. This would require them to run in 2022 for a one year term, and resume two year terms in 2023 (A.4357, Sillitti).

“By allowing county committee members to extend their terms by one year, we will keep members from needing to go door-to-door, keeping them and their constituents safer,” Assemblymember Gina Sillitti said. “This one time, one year extension of county committee terms is showing we recognize and acknowledge the COVID concerns take into account the best interest of the public.”