Assemblyman Dinowitz Seeks to Allay Voting Worries Due to Coronavirus Concerns

Dinowitz has proposed new legislation which would move the April 28 Presidential primary to June 23, simplify the ballot, and temporarily authorize absentee voting to New Yorkers who are unable or averse to appear personally at polling sites due to an imminent, impending, or urgent threat resulting from a disease outbreak such as COVID-19.

ALBANY, NY – A new bill from Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz aims to ensure that New York’s upcoming primary elections will not be derailed by coronavirus fears. As an increasing number of voters express worry about going to a polling site to physically cast their ballot, Assemblyman Dinowitz is proposing a series of changes to ensure our electoral process moves forward during the ongoing pandemic. The new legislation proposes three changes:

1) Move the April 28 primary to June 23;

2) Temporarily authorize absentee balloting for all voters who are worried about disease outbreak; and

3) Simplify the Presidential primary ballot by removing all candidates and delegates who have suspended their campaign.

As New York State awaits a constitutional amendment which would permit absentee voting for any kind, New York voters currently would be forced to confront the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19) if they want to cast ballots for a primary candidate for President of the United States as well as for candidates of both major parties for Congress, State Assembly, State Senate, and other state, local, and party positions. There are also several special elections scheduled for various districts in New York State over the next several months.

The legislation proposes adding a new paragraph to the section of election law which describes who is permitted to cast an absentee ballot in New York State. If passed, any eligible voter who is “unable or averse to appear personally at the polling place of the election district in which he or she is a qualified voter because of an imminent, impending or urgent threat resulting from a disease outbreak, including, but not limited to, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). This expanded eligibility for an absentee ballot would expire on July 1, 2020.

It is also becoming increasingly likely that restrictions on public gatherings will still be in effect at the end of April, which poses a severe challenge to the operation of elections. Moving the Presidential primary date to the end of June would allow Boards of Election to adequately prepare for significant increases in absentee ballot requests as well as allow more time for the spread of novel coronavirus to significantly slow before people have to vote.

As the nomination process for President has worn on, a field that originally had dozens of candidates has been winnowed to only two, however voters in New York State will still have the option to choose from many candidates who have suspended their campaign. This creates the possibility for voter confusion when voting for not only Presidential candidate, but also for delegates to the National Convention. Voters in New York vote for delegates separately from President, and the inclusion of numerous slates of delegate candidates for suspended Presidential campaigns presents an opportunity for voters to unwittingly cast their ballots for delegates of candidates who will not receive enough votes to have representation at the National Convention. Additionally the ballots would be very long if suspended campaigns are not removed, due to a large numbers of candidates and delegate slates qualified for the ballot earlier this year.

Since December 1st, 2019, when the first confirmed human case of COVID-19 was detected in Wuhan, China, cases have been confirmed in almost two hundred other nations including the United States. New York State has been ramping up preparations for widespread viral outbreak as thousands of positive cases have appeared in New York State in recent weeks and thousands more are under investigation. The United States Health and Human Services Secretary declared a public health emergency on January 31, 2020 to help the nation respond to COVID-19 and Governor Cuomo signed a $40 million emergency management authorization on March 3, 2020 for New York State’s novel coronavirus response.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D - Bronx) said: “While our health experts are doing everything they can to prepare for and prevent the spread of coronavirus in New York State, we must ensure that our democratic processes are not negatively impacted. The 2020 Presidential election is the most significant in our lifetimes, maybe even in American history, and no New Yorker should be disenfranchised from casting their ballot out of fear for their health or confusion about how the process works. We have already taken steps towards no-excuse absentee voting, but this is an important stopgap while we work through the constitutional amendment process. It is imperative for us to pass this legislation as quickly as possible so that our democratic processes can continue in full force amidst this pandemic.”

The legislation has been filed and is currently being circulated among Assemblymembers. The bill is awaiting sponsor in the State Senate.