The organization that oversees state election commissioners is calling for the postponement of the Democratic presidential primary, and for absentee ballots to be more widely available in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The state Election Commissioners Association on Tuesday asked the governor and the state Legislature to postpone the upcoming Democratic presidential primary from April 28 to June 23, which is the same date other federal, state and local primaries are scheduled, according to Vicky Olin, third vice president for the organization.
Two candidates remain in the Democratic presidential primary — former vice president Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt.
“The other thing we are asking for is to amend election law to allow absentee ballots at a time like this,” Olin said in an interview. “Normally in New York state you have to be out of the country or you are permanently disabled. We are asking for them to allow, because of an emergency due to an infectious disease or pandemic, all voters who are at risk but are not sick yet, be allowed to receive an absentee ballot.”
Another concern is that the voting machines need to be tested to ensure they are correctly tallying all ballots, but the elections offices — which are considered essential services, according to the governor’s executive order — are being asked to reduce staffing by 50%, making fewer employees available to make sure the machines are in proper working order, Olin said.
“Early voting begins in New York state on April 18, which is not that far away,” Olin said.
Ken Dow, the Democratic elections commissioner for Columbia County, said he is in favor of postponing the presidential primary to June.
“The added time would be very important for the dissemination of information and the logistics of carrying it out,” Dow said.
“Right now, it seems it would be very difficult to staff all of the polling places with elections inspectors, who would be needed if we were to go ahead in a normal way,” Dow said.
To date, no directives have been handed down by the governor’s office, which would have to make the final decision, Dow said Tuesday afternoon.
The association’s request does not address village elections, which were postponed from the original March 18 date to April 28.
Kelly Miller-Simmons, the Republican elections commissioner for Columbia County, agreed postponing the presidential primary would be the best course of action in light of the public health emergency.
“I think it is a safe decision,” Miller-Simmons said. “A lot of our poll workers are at that critical age and I don’t feel comfortable asking them to work at the polls. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for asking anyone to work and then they end up sick.”
In Greene County, Democratic election commissioner Marie Metzler expressed similar concerns.
“It is just common sense [to delay]. How many people would actually come out and vote, and how many would work the polls,” Metzler said. “It also includes early voting — the election is at the end of April but there is a 10-day period prior to that for early voting. We haven’t even hit the peak yet. Everything is closed, so I don’t see taking the risk, especially for older people.”
Roughly 80% to 90% of poll workers are elderly, Metzler said, and that is the group at highest risk for serious cases of coronavirus.
“We don’t want to expose them, and they probably wouldn’t want to work anyway,” Metzler said.
Republican Election Commissioner Brent Bogardus also wants to see a postponement of the primary.
“At this point in time, delaying certainly makes a lot of sense to me,” Bogardus said. “I think we would have a very difficult time getting inspectors to man the polling sites.”
There are polling sites, particularly downstate in New York City, Long Island and Westchester, areas hardest hit by the virus, that could have difficulty finding appropriate polling sites should the election go ahead as planned, Bogardus added.