How to vote by mail using an absentee ballot in New York

Absentee ballots at the Albany County Board of Elections in Albany, N.Y. (AP file photo)

Election Day 2020 is officially Tuesday, Nov. 3. However, this year's general election in New York — which of course includes the presidential contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden — actually takes place over an 11-day span beginning on Oct. 24, which is when early voting begins.

In light of the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic, New York now allows any registered voter to request an absentee ballot for the upcoming elections. This is de facto mail-in voting. 

One of the valid reasons to vote via an absentee ballot rather than in person is "temporary or permanent illness or disability." The state now recognizes that "temporary illness" includes the risk of contracting or spreading a communicable disease, such as COVID-19.

Note: New York does not have all-mail-in elections. You can vote in person, either during the early voting period or on Election Day, because the polls will be open (find your poll site here).

Voters can apply for an absentee ballot several ways:

  • Online through either New York City's portal (only for residents of Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island) or the state's portal (all other counties)
  • By submitting an application to your county's board of elections by mail, email, fax, or telephone
  • By going in-person to your county's board of elections

"You can vote early, vote absentee, or vote in person on election day, and I am issuing an executive order to ensure boards of elections have plans in place to safely receive the anticipated additional volume of absentee ballots through in-person return," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "To say this election is the most critical in recent history is understating its importance. We want to make sure every vote in New York is counted and every voice is heard." (Continues below)

You should be aware of several important procedures, dates, and deadlines regarding the elections, especially if you want to vote by and mail an absentee ballot.

"When mailing your completed ballot, the USPS recommends that voters allow enough time for ballots to be returned to the Board, which is generally seven days ahead of the general election," the state Board of Elections says on its website.

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot via the online portal, mail (postmarked by), email, or fax is Oct. 27. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot in person is Nov. 2 — the day before the election.

Elections officials expect to start mailing ballots around Sept. 18.

New York State requires your completed ballot to be both postmarked by Nov. 3 (Election Day) and received by your local board by Nov. 10 (unless you're sending in a military absentee ballot).

However, in recent months cutbacks, controversy, criticism, and coronavirus have rocked the U.S. Postal Service. So New York's elections officials are urging voters to apply for an absentee ballot now and then return the completed ballot as soon as possible.

"PLEASE BE AWARE THAT DESPITE THE ABOVE DEADLINES THE POST OFFICE HAS ADVISED THAT THEY CANNOT GUARANTEE TIMELY DELIVERY OF BALLOTS APPLIED FOR LESS THAN 15 DAYS BEFORE AN ELECTION," the state Board of Elections warns on its website. (Yes, it's in all-caps.)

But keep this in mind if you plan to vote via absentee ballot: In New York, you don't have to mail your ballot. Yes, mailing it is the best way to avoid the potential crowds during in-person voting, which is ostensibly why you're choosing the absentee option. However, if you'd rather avoid mailing it, you can instead submit your absentee ballot at:

  • Your county's board of elections office no later than Nov. 3 by 9 p.m.
  • An early voting poll site between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1. (Does not have to be your designated poll site.)
  • An Election Day poll site on Nov. 3 by 9 p.m. (Does not have to be your designated poll site.)

Also, New York allows you to change your mind about voting absentee.

"Even if you request or cast and return an absentee ballot, you may still go to the polls and vote in person," the Board of Elections states on its website. "The Election Law recognizes that plans change."

In that case, elections officials will check the poll book and then set aside the absentee ballot so it isn't counted.

You can learn how to register to vote here. You can confirm your voter registration status and find your poll site here. (Continues below)

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2020 GENERAL ELECTION IMPORTANT DATES

  • Friday, Oct. 9: Last day to register to vote in person at your board of elections office or any state agency participating in the National Voter Registration Act; mail-in voter registration must be postmarked by this date AND received no later Oct. 14.
  • Saturday, Oct. 24: Last day to register to vote in person at your board of elections office ONLY IF you were honorably discharged from the U.S. military or become a naturalized U.S. citizen after Oct. 9.
  • Saturday, Oct. 24 – Monday, Nov. 1: EARLY VOTING
  • Tuesday, Oct. 27: Last day to apply for an absentee ballot via online portal, email, fax, or mail (postmarked); see warning above regarding USPS delays.
  • Monday, Nov. 2: Last day to apply IN-PERSON for an absentee ballot.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 3: ELECTION DAY (polls are open 6 a.m. – 9 p.m.); last day to postmark absentee ballot or bring in person to either your county board of elections office or a poll site.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 10: Last day a mailed absentee ballot (postmarked by Nov. 3) can be received at the board of elections (except from military voters).
  • Monday, Nov. 16: Last day a mailed military voter ballot (postmarked by Nov. 3) can be received at the board of elections.

LINKS TO SELECTED BOARDS OF ELECTIONS

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