New York State will automatically mail absentee ballot applications to all voters in light of Covid-19 concerns following an executive order issued Friday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Cuomo said the order expands the normal conditions for absentee balloting by making it available to everyone for the June 23 primary and special elections. He said every voter will now receive an absentee application with a postage-paid return envelope.
By providing the return envelope, the move expands on his earlier executive order allowing new provisions for absentee voting.
"We still have elections in the midst of all this chaos," Cuomo said. "We have seen elections held where we have people on lines for a long period of time. It makes no sense to me to tell people you have to put your life at risk and violate social distancing to come out to vote."
Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, said the move should make obtaining an absentee ballot easier, especially those with no internet access.
But the decision has not been welcomed by all. Some predict lawsuits challenging the new order.
Echoing concerns already expressed by President Trump, state Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy called it an invitation to fraud and "an illegal and unconstitutional political power grab that will severely undermine the integrity of our elections."
“There have been numerous cases across the country that should serve as a grave warning sign for the potential problems: ballot harvesting, ballots arriving late, ballots going to the wrong or old address, more than one ballot being delivered and bins of ballots that were never delivered," he said.
“The ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ mentality has permeated the governor’s office and Cuomo is using this pandemic as a reason to expand his powers and force his political agenda through," he added. "If he goes forward with this, we will be prepared to legally challenge it at every level.”
State Conservative Chairman Gerard Kassar also raised concerns of fraud and constitutionality.
"Absentee ballots are inherently insecure voting documents – anyone can mail them back in to the Board of Elections," he said. "And universally distributing them would be both prohibitively risky and a flagrant violation of New York's Constitution."
Ralph M. Mohr, Erie County's Republican elections commissioner, said the Board of Elections is already poised to send postcards to all registered voters.
"We'll be ready," he said Friday. "You'll have the option of going on the website or do the tear-off on the postcard and mail it in."
He estimated the postcards should arrive in voter homes during the first week of May.
The June 23 election will prove key for Erie County voters, especially in the 27th Congressional District. They will choose between Democrat Nate McMurray and Republican Christopher L. Jacobs in a special election to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Chris Collins, who resigned in September after pleading guilty to insider trading.
On the same day, 27th District voters will also choose (on a separate ballot) the GOP candidate to run in the November general election against Democrat McMurray. In that contest, Jacobs faces Beth A. Parlato and Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr.
Another Democratic congressional primary that day takes place in the 26th District, with Emin Eddie Egriu challenging incumbent Brian Higgins.
Other Democratic primaries include the 14oth Assembly District featuring Kevin T. Stocker against William C. Conrad III. The 149th Assembly Democratic primary includes Adam L. Bojak, Robert Quintana and Jonathan D. Rivera. And the 61st Senate District features a three-way Democratic primary with Jacqualine G. Berger, Joan Elizabeth Seamans and Kim Smith.
News Staff Reporter Keith McShea contributed to this report.