RaisingVoicesUSA, a Rockville Centre-based advocacy group, held a virtual meeting Sept. 15 to address voting in the November 2020 election.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many questions have been circling about how to cast a ballot this presidential election year. Therefore, the group brought on an expert to the Zoom call, Michael Pernick, a voting rights attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to ease some concerns.
“One of the things we’ve learned on our RaisingVoices journey is that we do not know an awful lot of things,” said Emma Travers, co-director of RaisingVoices, “but we do know how to ask the right people to tell us what we should be doing.”
Co-director Cindy Vaupel said the group started four years ago “to provide people with opportunities to engage in their communities and to activate informed civic engagement.”
The virtual event took place on the same day of local elections across the state, including a trustee race in the Village of Rockville Centre, which were delayed from earlier this year because of Covid-19.
“Voting today was pretty easy and straight-forward,” Vaupel said. “Voting for the November election is a little more complicated, and I’m sure you’ve all heard and asked yourselves questions about the upcoming election, the safest way to vote and how to make sure your vote counts.”
She then introduced Pernick, who guided the virtual crowd of about 70 participants in this year’s voting procedures.
Mail-In Voting (Absentee Ballots)
Mail-in voting and absentee voting are one and the same, Pernick explained. This method of voting is used widely in several states without major issues. In New York, voters normally need a special reason for casting an absentee ballot; however, New York is allowing all voters to cast an absentee ballot in the upcoming election with coronavirus concerns as the reason.
To request an absentee ballot, voters can visit absenteeballot.elections.ny.gov.
“We are anticipating an unprecedented number of requests in New York and across the country,” Pernick said, “so I would urge you to get in your request as early as possible. If you are planning to vote by mail, don’t delay.”
Pernick said that mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, and received by the county Board of Elections on Nov. 10, otherwise they will be disqualified. To avoid this, he urged voters to request and send ballots as soon as possible.
Voters must also follow all instructions and sign the front of the ballot envelope. If they fail to do so, the ballot may also be invalid. However, Pernick noted, New York passed a law this year that requires the Board of Elections to call a voter within one day of receiving an invalid ballot in order to try and fix the situation.
Pernick also noted that absentee ballots do not get counted until after Election Day. Therefore, “folks should expect not to get final results until some time after the election,” he said, “because there’s so much paper that needs to be counted.”
If a voter is worried about an absentee ballot going through the mail, they can also drop off their absentee ballot to the county Board of Elections office before polls close on the evening of Nov. 3.
This is the second year that Nassau County will offer early voting, which will take place between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1 at various times and locations across the county. There are 15 different sites, and county residents can vote at any one of those sites. To see schedules and sites, visit nassaucountyny.gov/566/Board-of-Elections.
On Election Day, polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Voters can cast their ballots in person at their designated polling place. Even if a voter already requested, or even submitted, an absentee ballot, they can still vote in person, and the absentee ballot will not be counted. Therefore, Pernick said, any rumors about potential voter fraud due to mail-in voting are “totally unfounded.”
Voters can see their voter registration information and Election Day polling place by visiting voterlookup.elections.ny.gov.
Pernick added that voting in person will be a safe activity, as there are strict protective protocols in place to help prevent spreading the virus. “A lot of folks are worried about safety,” he said. “Experts said that voting is one of the safest Covid activities. The rules and regulations are extremely robust.”
He also added that there is a shortage of poll workers nationwide, so if residents are interested in working at the polls on Election Day, they can visit powerthepolls.org. Also, people can volunteer to be a poll observer to ensure rules are followed by visiting 866ourvote.org/volunteer.
In addition to Pernick’s presentation, several local candidates spoke about their own campaigns, including Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a Democrat in the 21st Assembly District seeking re-election, and State Sen. Kevin Thomas, a Democrat in the sixth State Senate District, also seeking re-election, as well as Michael Scalere, a Rockville Centre resident who later that evening lost his race for village trustee to incumbent Trustee Nancy Howard.
“These are challenging times, to say the least,” Thomas said, emphasizing the need for people to vote.
Lauren Corcoran Doolin, a Long Island advocate who also spoke on the call, agreed, and said, “it’s the most important election in our lifetime.”