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State AG calls for absentee-ballot-only voting, ban on in-person voting

Attorney General Letitia James on Sunday called for suspending in-person voting indefinitely and sending every eligible voter an absentee ballot so the April 28 Democratic presidential primary, as well as five special elections on that date, can be held without risking the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19.

Essex County Republican Election Commissioner Allison McGahey said the state Election Commissioner Association will request the governor make a change, too. This is one of the changes proposed. Another option the association discussed is postponing the presidential primary election until the June primary.

The governor has already postponed the date of village and special elections to the April 28 date, and if these elections are put off further, it could leave some communities without representation.

Essex County Democratic Election Commissioner Sue Montgomery Corey said this change will be “doable” but will require a “big lift” from the county boards of elections, because they’ve been preparing for an in-person vote.

She said she believes in the security of this style of election, but that results will likely be released later than election day.

“Voters shouldn’t have to choose between their health and the right to cast a ballot,” James said in a press release. “If we act now, we have more than a month before the presidential primary and numerous special elections across our state to take action and ensure every eligible New York voter receives an absentee ballot.”

Currently, to vote absentee, voters must fill out an application and give a valid reason for not bine able to vote in person.

James is proposing this change is completed by utilizing existing state law and an executive order that will continue to temporarily suspend and modify state laws relating to the coronavirus emergency.

Executive Order 202 — signed on March 7, 2020, declared a “State of Emergency,” meaning the state can essentially change or suspend any law, rule or regulation during the emergency that would hinder coping with that emergency.

According to James. the exponential rise and spread of coronavirus is so grave that allowing normal voting practices to remain in place for the upcoming election would constitute a threat of public illness, sufficient to justify absentee voting, per the State of Emergency declaration. A press release from James says absentee voting will lessen the likely negative impact on turnout and on the health of voters and poll workers.

Currently, 33 states already offer absentee voting with no reason necessary.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn, also announced he will introduce a bill to implement an automatic absentee voting system on an emergency basis for the April election.

Kathy Fleury said, as a former Franklin County Democratic commissioner, she would prefer if the state had no-reason absentee voting.

“Everybody’s a lot busier now,” Fleury said. “They’re involved with their kids and their activities. I think that we would have a better (turnout) for our elections if there was no reason required.”

Corey also said she personally likes this method, and that she is frustrated that voters have to give a reason for voting absentee.

Louisiana, Georgia and Ohio have postponed their primary elections.

(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Kathy Fleury is a former Republican election commissioner. The Enterprise regrets the error.)