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THE EDITORIAL BOARD

New York wise to expand absentee voting to protect voters and serve democracy

The bipartisan statewide push to expand use of absentee ballots as a response to the novel coronavirus pandemic is both sensible and essential – enough that Gov. Andrew M Cuomo approved it on Wednesday for voting in primaries and special elections on June 23. He needs soon to evaluate the need for November’s general election.

In another piece of good news for voters sensibly worried about Covid-19, the need to cast ballots in the Democratic presidential primary has diminished with Bernie Sanders’ decision to drop out of the race.

It wasn’t that way in Wisconsin. There, the Democratic governor sought to postpone Tuesday’s in-person voting in that state’s presidential primary and local elections. But the state Supreme Court’s conservative majority sided with the state Republican leaders, a decision then backed by the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court. The result was a menacing mess.

It wasn’t just the long lines and absentee ballots that failed to arrive or ones that couldn’t be legally witnessed. It wasn’t simply that it turned into an election fraught with missteps that will call its legitimacy into question. Those were bad enough but worse was that lives were recklessly put at risk.

The obvious problems of voting in the age of the coronavirus are roiling the nation. In hard-hit New York, citizens wishing to exercise their right might find it more than daunting to emerge from home restriction to go vote.

Thankfully, Erie County Democratic Election Commissioner Jeremy J. Zellner and his Republican counterpart, Ralph M. Mohr, are in concert. News political reporter Robert J. McCarthy wrote that for weeks, the two have been seeking amendments to expand absentee voting.

The New York State Elections Commissioners Association also said that even though the state postponed some primary and special elections scheduled for April 28, moving them to June 23, regulations allowing absentee voting because of sickness need to be expanded in light of Covid-19 concerns. Now, they have been.

The problem wasn’t just the risk to voters. Even if in-person voting was mandated, who would have been willing to work as election inspectors?

Some counties, including Erie, have made concessions. But this is a bipartisan push for broader interpretation applicable throughout the state. Cuomo made a smart decision, especially in light of the irresponsibility in Wisconsin. We don’t know what conditions will be like in November, but we know we don’t want to repeat that state’s recklessness.

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