November 29, 2021

Primary voting changes highlight safety

Cortland County Seal

With the decision to push back the presidential primary to June 23, commissioners of the Cortland County Board of Elections have made safety a top priority for everyone involved.

“It’s absolutely necessary with this pandemic we’re going through to ensure the safety of the voting public as well as the voting workers,” said Thomas Brown, the Democractic commissioner for the Cortland County Board of Elections. “We’re trying to take social distancing seriously and looking at options to prevent people being massed together at our poll sites. I think it was the necessary thing to do.”

The primary election, which was originally scheduled for April 28, will now occur June 23, the same day as other elections including local, state and Congressional elections.

Early voting will still occur from June 13 to 21.

Robert Howe, the Republican elections commissioner, disagreed with moving the date.

“You’re just doubling up the election,” he said. It will mean that both commissioners will have to hand count more ballots than they normally do.

Still, the board plans to have elections at public sites like it normally does, but will work to make sure equipment is sanitized and cleaned frequently and work to make sure people are 6 feet apart, Brown said.

Under an executive order Wednesday from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, voters will be able to request an absentee ballot without having to provide a reason, according to media reports.

“I think it’s good,” Howe said. “I wish we could do it automatically and vote by mail. It makes it a lot easier for everybody.”

Important dates for primary voting

May 29 — The last day to register in person or postmark voter registration form.
June 16 —The last day to postmark application for an absentee ballot by mail.
June 22 — The last day to apply in person at the Board of Elections for an absentee ballot and to postmark an absentee ballot.
June 23 — The last day to deliver in person an absentee ballot to the Board of Elections.
— SOURCE: Cortland County Board of Elections

“Personally, I’m glad he made that decision,” Brown said. “I think it will be beneficial to the voters in lieu of the health risk that some may actually have going to the polling place. I know some people may be concerned to go to places where there are large groups of people, so this will allow people to vote from home and not have to venture out to the polling site.”

Before the order, Brown said he was following the New York State Election Commissioners Association’s support of two bills in the state Senate that would allow for remote voting through an absentee ballot.

Bill S8015A would “allow voters who are concerned about voting in-person due to an ongoing public health risk to request an absentee ballot.” It’s sponsored in the Senate by Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx) and in the Assembly by Michael Blake (DBronx).

However, Senate Bill S8130, sponsored by Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) has no Assembly counterpart, and has little chance of being considered. Under that bill, “absentee ballots to be received on election day if it is received and time stamped by the board of elections by the close of election day,” according to the bill’s text.

Brown said he hoped the order would prevent a drop in voters who would otherwise fear for their safety by having to go out in public to vote.

Right now, the board is looking for polling inspectors to be trained for the election. Many of the county’s nearly 160 poll workers are seniors, Brown said, and there’s concern for them.

“Many are shying away for the fact that you can contract the disease” by working in public places like a polling station, he said.

As it gets closer to June 23, he said he’ll have to see who is still willing to work if the threat hasn’t passed.

Howe said he wasn’t sure either if the virus will have passed by June for voting to happen and to have polling inspectors out in public.

In the meantime, he has been receiving and addressing calls about the confusion of the date change from earlier voting information cards sent out with primary election voting information, including where and when to vote.

The cards were sent out on March 27, the day before the change was made, to make sure that they would reach people before April 28, Brown said.

Flyers with the new dates will be sent out to address the confusion.

Both commissioners will keep the board’s web page up to date with information regarding voting and any changes that may occur related to it.