As absentee deadline nears, officials eye slow mail

Oct. 18 is the deadline for the Board of Elections to receive an application or letter of application by mail for the general election. Tribune News Service/Joel Bissell/MLive.com

CATSKILL — Mail delivery slower than the 2020 pandemic year could have a direct impact on distribution of absentee ballots this year, county election officials said Tuesday.

The deadline to get requests to the boards of elections is fast approaching.

Monday is the last day for the boards of elections to receive an application or letter or application by mail, online portal, email or fax for an absentee ballot for the Nov. 2 general election.

Under a new state law, this year’s election requires an application or a request for an absentee ballot must be received by the board of elections at least 15 days prior to the election.

Absentee ballots will not be mailed to voters unless their application is received by the board of elections by the Oct. 18 deadline, Greene County Republican Election Commissioner Brent Bogardus said.

“This is the state Board of Elections’ response to mail delivery slowing down,” Bogardus said. “This was an issue last year, it’s becoming more of an issue this year with the Postal Service. What it does basically is it requires absentee ballot applications to be received by Oct. 18.”

The state previously required applications to be mailed by the voter at least seven days prior to the election, Bogardus said.

The deadline allows for the application to be processed and for an absentee ballot to be mailed to the voter and for the absentee ballot to then have enough time to be returned prior to the election, Bogardus said.

“Absentee voters should be aware of an important deadline coming up,” said the Columbia County Board of Elections in a statement. “If a voter wants the Board of Elections to mail an absentee ballot to the voter, the voter’s application for an absentee ballot must be received by the Columbia County Board of Elections by Monday, Oct. 18. This deadline applies only if the voter wants to receive their ballot by mail.”

After Oct. 18 and until Nov. 1, voters may apply for an absentee ballot, but they will be required to pick up their ballot at the Board of Elections, or have a designated person pick it up for them, according to information provided by the Columbia County Board of Elections. Absentee ballots cannot be mailed out for applications received after Oct. 18.

The number of absentee ballots Greene County receives each year varies, Bogardus said. Typically, more people vote in presidential and gubernatorial election years and there is traditionally a voter dropoff in the odd numbered years when there are small, local elections.

As of Tuesday morning Greene County Board of Elections sent out 941 absentee ballots for the upcoming election, Bogardus said.

The Columbia County Board of Elections sent out about 1,900 absentee ballots, Columbia County Democratic Election Commissioner Ken Dow said Tuesday.

Absentee ballots allow for a voter to cast ballot without physically going to their polling place. The state Board of Elections outlines qualifications allowing votes through absentee ballot: if a voter is going to be absent from their county on Election Day; if they are unable to appear at the polls due to a temporary or permanent illness or disability; if a voter is unable to appear because they are the primary caregiver of one or more individuals who are ill or physically disabled; if the voter is a resident or patient of a Veterans Health Administration hospital; and if a voter is detained in jail awaiting grand jury action or confined in prison after conviction for an offense other than a felony.

For the November election, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 remains a valid reason for any voter to obtain an absentee ballot, according to information provided by the Columbia County Board of Elections. Voters desiring to vote by absentee ballot due to COVID-19 concerns may do so, and should select “temporary illness” as the reason given on the application for the absentee ballot.

There is a later Nov. 1 deadline for voters who apply in-person for an absentee ballot. For those who are voting by absentee ballot, when returning completed ballots, they must be postmarked no later than Nov. 2, and must be received by the local board of elections by Nov. 9.

To expedite the application process, information provided by the Columbia County Board of Elections says voters may submit their applications for an absentee ballot through an online portal, which is on the website of the New York State Board of Elections (https://absenteeballot.elections.ny.gov/). A link to the absentee portal can also be found on the home page of the Columbia County Board of Elections (www.columbiacountyny.com/elections). A voter may also print, scan and email an absentee ballot application, to elections@columbiacountyny.com. The application forms are on the county and state board websites.

If a voter submits an absentee ballot but later wants to vote in person on Election Day or during early voting, the voter may do so according to information provided by the Columbia County Board of Elections. In such case the board of elections will not open the voter’s absentee ballot envelope and only the voter’s in-person vote will be counted.

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