Historic Legislation to Overhaul Absentee Ballot Application Signed by Governor

Significant new law sponsored by Assemblywoman Galef puts emphasis on voter participation
May 3, 2010

New York State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef announced that her historic legislation, A.5276/S.2868, has been signed into law by Governor Paterson (Chapter 63 of 2010). As a result, filling out an absentee ballot will be simpler for New Yorkers. Registered voters no longer have to give detailed, privacy invasive excuses as to why they will not be able to vote in person on Election Day.

This new law changes the process by which a voter requests an absentee ballot. Now an absentee ballot may be provided to a voter as long as the voter affirms, in good faith, that he or she will be out of the county, or unable to appear at their designated polling site on Election Day due to illness or disability. The new absentee ballot application will simply require a sworn statement signed by the voter stating that the voter does not anticipate being able to access their polling site on Election Day for one of those reasons.

Previously, voters were asked a series of lengthy questions that provided information of little value to the Board of Elections. These questions not only burdened the voters with the complex task of explaining why they could not appear at the poll site, but invaded their privacy and jeopardized their safety by requiring such minute details. Such details included the dates that voters would be away from their residences, where they were going, and who they would be with. If voters were unable to go to the polls due to illness or disability, they had to specify their physician’s name and address; and if they would be in a hospital, they would have had to disclose where it was located.

“This legislation simplifies the absentee ballot application to ensure that qualified registered voters are free to vote in each and every election without the invasive personal questions that are currently required,” said Assemblywoman Galef. “These hurdles are unnecessary and disenfranchise people who are not comfortable answering such questions. The intent of this legislation was to increase the level of participation of registered voters, and this will go a long ways towards doing that.”

In addition this newly signed law also allows voters to request absentee ballots for more than one election. Voters who have second residences or go on extended trips are currently forced to apply for absentee ballots for each election, often preventing their participation in elections, such as special elections to fill vacated offices, which could occur within weeks or months of each other. This will allow more people to exercise their right to vote by making it easier for people to vote who are constantly away from their homes and polling sites, and who know they will not be able to vote in person.

"The passage of this bill is a step in the right direction to ensuring that those voters who vote by absentee ballot will have a greater possibility of their votes always being counted and will lessen the chance of anyone putting frivolous challenges against their application or votes. I commend Assemblywoman Galef for sponsoring this bill," said Commissioner Reginald A. LaFayette, Democratic Commissioner of the Westchester County Board of Elections.

“I believe that this new law will ease the minds of people going away on lengthy vacations and people with health issues. They will be assured that this private information will not be made available to the public under the Freedom of Information Law,” said Commissioner Carolee C. Sunderland, Republican Commissioner of the Westchester County Board of Elections.

“This proposal improves the process significantly by removing the requirement for extraneous information which was potentially invasive, haphazard in it provision, and questionable in its review and use. The bill will improve access to voting by all qualified voters, which is the mission of our organization, as well as reducing the wasted effort in the process,” said Adelaide DiGiorgi, President of the League of Women Voters Westchester.

"The League of Women Voters of New York State applauds the Legislature and Governor Patterson for recognizing that removing unnecessary and intrusive requirements from the absentee ballot application will encourage more eligible New York voters to exercise their right to vote without jeopardizing their privacy and safety," said Aimee Allaud, Elections Specialist, League of Women Voters.