New York City lawmakers came together for apress conference on Thursday to discuss pending legislation that, if passed, would require boards of elections statewide to provide return postage guaranteed envelopes for absentee ballots.
Return postage guaranteed envelopes would make voting easier, the lawmakers said during the press conference streamed over Facebook Live. It would simplify voting and encourage residents to participate in the democratic process. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some voters are unable to head to the polls for fear of contracting the virus and other issues. The legislation will remove some of the confusion surrounding absentee ballots and clarify whether or not a voter needs to buy stamps or not.
“Absentee ballots provide an alternative to the polling sites,” said State Senator James Sanders Jr. (D-Queens), sponsor of the Senate bill. “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.”
The legislation is in committee in both the Assembly and the Senate.
Assemblymember Jefferey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) is the main sponsor in the Assembly. Co-sponsors in both bodies include Manhattan State Senators Brad Hoylman (D-Chelsea, Midtown), Brian A. Benjamin (D-Harlem, East Harlem), Liz Krueger (D-Upper East Side, Lenox Hill), and Robert Jackson (D-Washington Heights, Fort George, Inwood), and Manhattan Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried (D-Chelsea, Midtown), Linda Rosenthal (D-Upper West Side, Hell’s Kitchen), Rebecca Seawright (D-Upper East Side, Yorkville), and Carmen De La Rosa (D-Upper Manhattan).
The bills come after a historic number of voters requested absentee ballots during the June primaries. The absentee voting process was marred with complications including issues over postage. For absentee ballots to be considered valid, they needed to be postmarked by a certain date. But, the post office did not postmark all of them, leading to disqualifications. Ultimately a group of candidates and voters fought the disqualifications and absentee ballots lacking postmarks were included in the final vote count.
Dinowitz first received complaints about absentee ballots four years ago, he said. Residents were confused about whether or not stamps were required. Why should people need stamps to vote absentee, he asked himself.
“We should not be allowing that to happen now or in the future,” he said about the confusion. “We have to undo that.”
Dr. Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State Conference said that having to pay for a stamp to vote absentee is voter suppression. It’s a poll tax because it affects who votes and who doesn’t.
“Anytime we put anything in the way that doesn’t encourage citizens to participate in democracy, that is voter suppression,” said Dr. Dukes.
The state has a responsibility to have free and fair elections, and this legislation helps ensure that, said Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan).
Elections can’t be free and fair when people are required to pay for a stamp, Rosenthal said. And the legislation is even more crucial during the pandemic as people are protecting their health.
“During a pandemic, when millions of New Yorkers will vote by mail to protect their health and safety,” she said. “It is vital that we remove every barrier to the vote.”
She noted that voter suppression is worse in other states and New York should be proud. But there’s work to be done and this legislation is a step forward.
Before the press conference ended, Sanders thanked everyone and left them with a final message:
“To the people as a whole, this your moment, this is your democracy,” Sanders said. “Come out on November 3 and vote any way you wish but make sure that your vote counts.”