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Lessons for NY from this year’s election

It’s amazing that New York state still has races that are undecided some three weeks after the Nov. 3 election.

It’s no wonder state Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Astoria and Democratic deputy majority leader in the state Senate, has introduced legislation to speed up the counting of absentee ballots so that elections can be called more quickly.

This is a problem. Six weeks after the June primary, two races for Congress remained undecided with ballots still waiting to be counted. In the wake of the Nov. 3 election there are several races involving both state and federal races waiting to be called while absentee and mail-in votes are counted.

Gianaris’ bill would require local board of elections to start counting absentee ballots three hours before polls close on Election Day.

It would also require local boards to examine absentee ballot envelopes for validity as they are received.

“It’s embarrassing,” Gianaris told CNN. “And if we were a swing state in this presidential election, this would be a national scandal.”

That’s exactly right.

Gianaris and the rest of the state Legislature shouldn’t be surprised that counting mail and absentee ballots is taking this long, and we hope legislative discussions on the future of mail-in voting reflect what we are seeing this year. Starting the count of mail-in ballots on Election Day may not help results come in any faster if state officials continue to push mail-in voting as a tool to improve voter turnout. Is it necessary to count those ballots when they come in, rather than starting three hours before the polls close on Election Day? Maybe, but counting those ballots days or weeks ahead of time is unacceptable to many because it introduces the possibility for election shenanigans. Election officials

Another idea is to move up absentee ballot deadlines. Maybe instead of requiring them to be postmarked by Election Day, require that they be received by then, or postmarked several days earlier.

It is better, in terms of quick counting of results, for people to vote in person, and New York’s addition of early voting last year makes that more feasible for more people.

Mail-in voting has shown that it increases voter turnout, and that’s a good thing. But mail-in voting slows the ability to quickly decide a winner.

Some states mail a ballot to every voter, but not New York. Our state still requires you to give an excuse to receive a mail-in absentee ballot — although this year, the state let anyone use the pandemic to check the “temporary illness” excuse box. Will the excuse requirement be dropped in the future? That big decision will have to be made.

New York should learn from this election, particularly if mail-in ballots are going to remain a fixture in elections to come. One lesson in particular that we hope state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have learned is that piecemeal additions to elections law leads to a mess. A top-to-bottom review is needed.

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