Voting in New York will be different this year. Two sets of state voting laws have been passed since the last major election in 2018, changing when and how New Yorkers can cast their ballots.
The most significant of these changes will debut on what is expected to be a tense election day unlike any other—one where the winners will most likely remain unknown for more than a week after the polls close, due to the expected high number of absentee ballots.
We talked to election officials from eight counties in the Hudson Valley and Catskills about the new system, possible delays from the postal service, and what they anticipated on election day. Below is the result—your very own guide to voting in 2020.
There Are 3 Different Ways to Vote This Year
Before 2019, most people in New York could only vote the traditional way: standing in long lines, while idly trying to suss out who might be voting for a third-party candidate.
But this year, anyone can vote with an absentee ballot. Legislation signed into law August 20 allows New Yorkers to request absentee ballots if "there is a risk of contracting or spreading a disease-causing illness to the voter or to other members of the public." The law was created in part so New Yorkers could avoid crowding polling sites during the pandemic.
Early voting is also available in New York this year after debuting during the 2019 election. Each county will hold voting hours at a limited set of polling sites for nine days ending the Sunday before Election Day. Each county's hours are listed below. Then there's the traditional Election Day vote. All polling places in the Hudson Valley and Catskills are open on November 3 from 6am until 9pm.
The Last Day to Request an Absentee Ballot Is Too LateThe last day to request an absentee ballot for the November 3 election is October 27, but if you wait that long to mail in a request, your vote may not be counted.
Letters were sent to the state governments in July with a warning by Thomas J. Marshall, the general counsel for the Postal Service, saying most of the states' deadlines for requesting absentee ballots weren't in line with how long it took the service to deliver mail, according to Reuters.
The mail has been taking longer as of late. Overtime for postal workers has been canceled and letter-sorting machines have been taken offline, leading Democrats to accuse Louis DeJoy—appointed US Postmaster General by President Trump in May—of slowing the mail to disrupt the election. Trump has railed for months against mail-in voting as an invitation for mass election fraud, and his supporters are expected to avoid mail-in voting when compared to Biden supporters.
During a confrontational hearing on August 21, DeJoy assured Congress that all ballots would be delivered "securely and on time" and 95 percent of election mail will be delivered in three days, according to Reuters.
However, all eight county elections commissioners interviewed said voters should follow Marshall's original 15-day timetable and mail in requests for ballots more than a week before the official New York deadline—or earlier. The deadline does not allow enough time for requests to get to the Board of Election, be processed and filled by election workers, be mailed to the voter, and then mailed back to the BOE, the elections commissioners said.
Dutchess County elections commissioner Beth Soto said that despite the October 27 deadline, "the Post Office has advised us they cannot guarantee timely delivery of ballots applied for less than 15 days before the election"—which would be October 19. She encouraged Dutchess County voters to submit their ballot requests before October 12. That seems like a reasonable guideline for all voters to follow, regardless of which county they reside in.
Voters can request absentee ballots now, and other elections commissioners suggested voters mail in ballot applications as soon as possible.
"I think everyone acknowledges that it seems like there's an extra two- or three-days' lag time at the Post Office," said Delaware County elections commissioner Judy Garrison. "People are advised to act timely. They have plenty of time to act ahead."
Ballots were certified by the state on September 9, then by county boards of elections (BOEs) on September 10, after which the BOEs began the laborious process of producing the ballots and mailing them out to absentee voters.
We were able to get dates for when absentee ballots would begin to be mailed to voters in many Hudson Valley and Catskill counties; they are listed under their respective counties below.
New Yorkers can also request a ballot through an online portal the state launched on September 1. The portal saves time by eliminating the request's journey through the mail, though the ballot itself still needs to be mailed to the voter, then back to their county BOE.
Voters can also bypass the mail and save time by emailing, calling, or faxing ballot requests through their county BOEs. Some BOEs have a preferred method, which is listed with our election resources at Therivernewsroom.com.
Another state law allows absentee ballots to be postmarked as late as election day. These ballots can be received by BOEs as late as November 10. Governor Cuomo announced on September 8 that voters can now drop off absentee ballots at Board of Elections offices anytime, including during early voting.
Early Voting Will Help Flatten the Missing Vote CurveTo use the nomenclature of the day, voting early will help flatten the curve, spreading out when votes are cast. Ulster County elections commissioner Ashley Dittus said early voters would avoid lines—more than just a convenience in the time of COVID-19.
Early voting differs from Election Day voting. A limited number of polling places will be open for more than a week ending November 1, the Sunday before Election Day, though each county has some flexibility as to their specific hours. In Ulster County—where early voting made up seven percent of all votes in 2019, the second-highest proportion in the state—there will be five early polling sites, while Westchester County will have 17. Half of counties in the region will have only a single early polling site.
Any registered voter can visit any early-voting site in their county, a fact often misunderstood during the method's launch last year, according to Dittus. Unlike absentee voting, there is no need to request anything: Residents can just show up and vote.
Vote Twice?Voters unsure if their absentee ballot will arrive on time were encouraged by several of the elections commissioners to also vote in person.
The suggestion at least ostensibly mirrors a suggestion President Trump made to his supporters to vote both by absentee ballot and in person to help ensure their vote is received. The comments drew outrage from Trump detractors, who suggested Trump was encouraging his supporters to commit election fraud.
The picture is more complex, and some elections commissioners in the region endorsed double voting to ensure everyone got to vote.
In New York, lists of voters who've mailed in their ballots are cross-checked with lists of voters who cast their ballots on election day, and any duplicates are tossed, eliminating any possibility a resident would get two votes, according to the elections commissioners.
Most counties now have tracking systems so voters can see when their ballot requests are processed and when their completed ballots are received back at their BOE.
Ulster County Elections Commissioner Dittus said voters anxious about receiving their ballot in the mail in time can always check the tracker and vote early or on Election Day if the ballot isn't looking prompt. Someone who has already mailed their ballot can still vote in person if they are anxious about the ballot getting to their BOE by November 10.
Columbia County elections commissioner Ken Dow said the system eliminates any double votes.
"We cross-check every absentee ballot against the voting records from election day and early voting, and if anybody voted in person who was also sent in an absentee ballot, that ballot gets pulled out so they don't get counted twice," he said. "So, if anyone is unsure, they can send in an absentee application, and...if they feel comfortable voting in person when the time comes, it doesn't stop them."
Absentee Applications Are Already Rolling InCounty BOEs in the Hudson Valley and Catskills reported a deluge of applications soon after Governor Cuomo signed the bill allowing absentee voting by anyone fearful of contracting COVID-19.
The law took effect upon its signing August 20, and Ulster County's BOE reported receiving 4,500 requests by September 2. Rockland County's BOE received 10,000 requests by September 3, while Sullivan County, with just 53,000 registered voters, received 3,000 requests in this time. Columbia County elections commissioner Dow said his BOE "could easily get 20,000 absentee applications."
When Will We Know the Results?The three methods of voting all run on different schedules, and New York's results will not come in all at once.
Though early voting ends November 1, results cannot be released until after the polls close on election day, November 3. Results of early voting are expected to be compiled by then and should be posted just after 9pm.
Absentee ballots have until the end of November 10 to get to their respective BOEs. Some election commissioners said they were only going to begin counting them on November 11.
Putnam County elections commissioner Andrea Basli said her office may post absentee votes on a rolling basis after Election Day, though the results would be unofficial until the final absentee ballots are processed after November 10. This brings us to...
Democrats' Nightmare ScenarioTrump has been lambasting mail-in voting for months, claiming fraud will happen on a massive scale and absentee ballots will swindle him out of the election.
Absentee ballots could very well flip many of November's elections, not because of fraud, but rather because of President Trump claiming there might be fraud. He has sown so much distrust about mail-in voting that his supporters are expected to disproportionately avoid the system and vote in person on Election Day.
Of those planning to vote in person, 57 percent plan to vote for Donald Trump, while 37 percent plan to vote for Joe Biden, according to a national Emerson poll. Of those planning to vote by mail, 67 percent plan to vote for Biden and only 28 percent vote for Trump.
There is also evidence of this locally. Ulster County Elections Commissioner Dittus said Democrats disproportionately requested absentee ballots during this summer's primaries and "it's trending that way now."
"[Absentee ballots] could be even more of consequence" in November's elections because so many more people are using them, Dittus said. "It could change an entire Assembly or Senate race."
Since early votes and Election Day votes are expected to be posted overnight November 3, New Yorkers could wake up to an almost completely red electoral map. It is only over the subsequent 10-plus days that absentee ballot results will be posted, turning many of the red districts blue.
Just like Trump said all along.
More Polls Workers NeededSome BOEs said they were having more trouble finding elections inspectors than in prior years because of the pandemic and Early Voting. Ulster County is temporarily hiring over 600 elections inspectors to cover the extended early voting hours.
Several elections commissioners said most inspectors were retirees, many of whom did not sign on this year because of pandemic fears, draining the normal employee pool. Commissioners specifically asked for younger people to apply, in case a second COVID-19 wave hits the state and causes at-risk inspectors to call out. Members of the minority party in their county are also encouraged to apply, as an equal number of registered Republicans and Democrats are needed in each county, sometimes a challenging feat. In Rockland County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, elections commissioner Kristen Zebrowski Stavisky said they are "always struggling to get Republican inspectors."
Elections inspectors will be trained and are paid anywhere from $15 per hour to a flat $350 for election day, depending on the county. Interested parties must be registered to vote, but do not need to be registered with a political party, though they must choose to be a Democrat or a Republican for the purposes of working the polls.
For a breakdown of election information by county, and rolling election updates, visit Therivernewsroom.com.
2020 Voting TimelineSEPTEMBER 1: ABSENTEE BALLOT REQUEST PORTAL OPENS
All New York State voters can request an absentee ballot via the state's new online portal, which launched on September 1. Election reform laws passed in August of 2020 allow any registered voter to request an absentee ballot due to risk of illness, including COVID-19. Voters technically have until October 27 to request absentee ballots in writing or online, or until November 2 if they apply in person at their local Board of Elections. But the October 27 deadline may not leave enough time for postal delays this year. Local officials say that if you plan to request an absentee ballot, you should do so by October 12.
SEPTEMBER 9: BALLOTS CERTIFIED BY NEW YORK STATE
According to state law (§ 4–112), the New York State Board of Elections has until the 55th day before a general election to certify to county Boards of Election the federal and state candidates who will appear on the ballot.
SEPTEMBER 10: BALLOTS CERTIFIED BY COUNTY BOARDS
The due date for local county Boards of Elections to certify ballots fell the day after the due date for the New York State Board of Elections to certify candidates in larger races to the county boards (§ 4–114). Only after the county Boards of Elections have certified local ballots can they be made available to voters.
SEPTEMBER 15: VILLAGE ELECTIONS
Village elections in New York, most of which are held in March, were delayed by executive order until September 15 this year.
SEPTEMBER 18: BALLOTS MAILED TO VOTERS
Around September 18, the first county Boards of Elections began mailing absentee ballots to voters who have requested them. This was also around the time when local Boards of Elections began posting sample ballots on their websites.OCTOBER 9
DEADLINE TO REGISTER TO VOTE IN NEW YORK STATE
If you are not registered to vote in New York State, you have until October 9 to register either by mail or in person to vote in the general election. Your registration must be received by a Board of Elections by October 14 in order for you to be eligible to vote on November 3.
OCTOBER 12: DEADLINE FOR REQUESTING AN ABSENTEE BALLOT
By October 12, if you plan to request an absentee ballot and haven't done so yet, you should. Local election commissioners urge voters to get their requests in well ahead of the October 27 deadline set by state law, to allow for this year's unprecedented postal delays. You can request an absentee ballot online through the New York State portal.
OCTOBER 24-NOVEMBER 1: EARLY VOTING
Early voting is still pretty new in New York State: An election reform law passed in 2019 allows all eligible New York voters to cast a ballot in person at an early voting poll site the week before an election. The 2020 early voting period runs from October 24 through November 1.
OCTOBER 27: DEADLINE TO REQUEST AN ABSENTEE BALLOT
Voters technically have until October 27 to request absentee ballots in writing or online, or until November 2 if they apply in person at their local Board of Elections. But the Post Office has warned that the October 27 deadline may not leave enough time for postal delays this year. Local officials say that if you plan to request an absentee ballot, you should do so by October 12.
NOVEMBER 3: ELECTION DAY
On Election Day, polls will be open from 6am to 9pm. November 3 is also the deadline for sending an absentee ballot. Make sure your ballot is postmarked by November 3, or you can bring it in person to a poll site or your local Board of Elections office by 9pm. Be prepared to wait awhile to find out who won: This year, the sheer number of absentee ballots, and the prospect of partisan differences in whether people vote in person or by mail, mean it may be weeks before we know the outcomes of federal, state, and local races.
NOVEMBER 10: DEADLINE FOR RECEIVING BALLOTS
To be counted in the general election, all ballots must be received by local Boards of Elections by November 10.