Legislators and Advocates Call for End to De Facto Poll Tax on Absentee Ballots

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and State Senator James Sanders Jr. have legislation to require that all absentee ballots are distributed with a postage paid return envelope

Albany, NY – As record numbers of New Yorkers vote by absentee ballot in the upcoming November 3 election, many have been dismayed to learn that they need to add their own postage in order to return their ballot. Legislators and advocates gathered virtually on Thursday to criticize the de facto poll tax, led by State Senator James Sanders Jr. and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz as well as Dr. Hazel N. Dukes from the NAACP NYS Conference. They were also joined by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, State Senator Kevin Parker, New York Civil Liberties Union, Jamaica Branch of NAACP, and Democratic nominee for NYS Assembly Khaleel Anderson.

The legislation (A2327/S8004) would simply require the board of elections to provide a return postage guaranteed envelope with absentee ballots. This was done by Executive Order of the Governor for the June 23 primary election, but there was not a similar order implemented for
the November 3 general election. The legislation was first introduced in 2015 by Assemblyman Dinowitz and was picked up by State Senator Sanders to carry in the State Senate.

The bill has taken on increased significance as many voters are choosing to vote by absentee ballot due to concerns about the risk of COVID-19, a temporary change which was authorized by previous legislation from Assemblyman Dinowitz. There is a proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution to permanently authorized no-excuse absentee voting which could
go into effect as soon as January 2022.

Many voters expressed confusion as they received absentee ballots for the November 3 general election about whether they needed to pay for postage, and if so how much was necessary. Legislators and advocates expressed concern not only about this confusion, but also about the inability for some people to procure a stamp as well as the financial duress that many people
in experiencing during the COVID-19 period.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D - Bronx) said: "It is our jobs as stewards of democracy to ensure that there are as few barriers to voting as possible. Requiring postage to return an absentee ballot is tantamount to a poll tax, both with respect to the actual cost of postage as well as the logistical hurdle of purchasing a stamp. I am proud to have carried this bill for a
number of years and am hopeful that we are able to get it passed as soon as possible so it can be in effect before New York State amends our constitution to allow no-excuse absentee voting in 2022. Thank you to State Senator Sanders for his support in the other chamber on this legislation, as well as to my colleagues and the advocates who have joined us in this call to ensure that all voters can participate in our democracy."

"In this difficult time as we continue to battle coronavirus, it is absolutely necessary that we make voting and participating in the democratic process as easy and safe as possible, and that includes fine tuning voting by absentee ballot," State Senator James Sanders Jr. said. "This legislation will remove some of the confusion and complications associated with voting
by absentee ballot like having to go out and purchase postage or not knowing how much postage to use."

Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal said: "The State has a responsibility to guarantee free and fair elections for every single New Yorker who is eligible and wants to vote. Voting is neither free nor fair if the State requires voters to pay for postage. During a pandemic, when millions of New Yorkers will vote by mail to protect their health and safety, it is vital that we remove every barrier to the vote. This amounts to a poll tax: the cost of a single stamp could represent a difficult decision that no one who is barely scraping by should be forced to make."

"This is voter suppression," Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President of the NAACP NYS Conference said. "Anytime we put anything in the way that doesn't encourage citizens to participate in democracy – that is voter suppression."

The entire press conference can be viewed here.