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Protecting Election 2020 from Covid-19: A Toolkit for New York Activists

If the Covid-19 pandemic continues into November, we will need to change our election practices to make sure voters don’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote. We have the solutions to make our elections both safe and accessible to all. And with this toolkit, you will know what reforms your state needs and where to focus your efforts.

Last Updated: August 20, 2020
Published: August 20, 2020

This is part of the Bren­nan Center’s Toolkits for Activ­ists Across the Nation.

Jump to a section: 
Polit­ical Context  |  What’s in Place and What’s Needed  |  Key Dates

Admin­is­ter­ing an elec­tion under pandemic condi­tions requires under­tak­ing steps to keep voting access­ible, safe, and secure. The guide below lays out the prob­lems Covid-19 poses, what prepared­ness meas­ures New York has, and what changes are still needed. But first, we offer some polit­ical context for your advocacy.

Advocacy Focus: Local Reform

Local offi­cials have a lot of respons­ib­il­ity over elec­tions. They are a great place to focus advocacy efforts. Though state offi­cials can make any of the changes in this toolkit, we high­light some examples of changes that local elec­tions offi­cials can also make with this symbol:🔸

Polit­ical Context

Below is a list of the relev­ant offi­cials and inform­a­tion about the legis­lat­ive session.

Governor: Andrew Cuomo (D)  

New York State Board of Elec­tions Co-Chairs: Peter Kosin­ski (R) and Douglas Kell­ner (D)

Legis­lature: Assembly (D) Senate (D)

Legis­lat­ive Session: As a formal matter, the Legis­lature is in session year-round.  The Legis­lature went into recess June 10, 2020, recon­vened virtu­ally from July 20–23, and is currently in recess once again.  Legis­lat­ive lead­ers can choose to recon­vene. Either the legis­lature or the governor can call a special legis­lat­ive session.

Local Elec­tions Offi­cials: In New York, local boards of elec­tions share respons­ib­il­it­ies for admin­is­ter­ing elec­tions. You can look up indi­vidual local boards of elec­tions here.

What New York Has and What’s Needed

Three prior­it­ies. There are three key areas where we need to shore up our elec­tions systems for success during a pandemic: regis­tra­tion, mail voting, and in-person voting.


Covid-19 may disrupt the tradi­tional ways Amer­ic­ans register to vote, like get out the vote drives or regis­ter­ing at govern­ment agen­cies. In the crucial weeks before the regis­tra­tion dead­line, postal service disrup­tions may lead many regis­tra­tion forms to arrive at elec­tion offices after the dead­line.

Prepar­at­ory Meas­ures New York Already Has Taken:

  • Online voter regis­tra­tion

Changes Still Needed:

  • Prepare to extend online and mail voter regis­tra­tion dead­lines based on condi­tions in the state
  • Voter regis­tra­tion on Elec­tion Day

Voting by Mail

Because of Covid-19, long lines and crowds at the polls pose health risks not seen in previ­ous elec­tions. Allow­ing every citizen to vote by mail reduces the number of people at the polls on Elec­tion Day and decreases the expos­ure risk to Covid-19.

Prepar­at­ory Meas­ures New York Already Has Taken:

  • All voters can vote by mail 
  • Statewide online tool for request­ing an absentee ballot
  • No ID require­ment to vote by mail
  • No notary or witness require­ment for return of mail ballot
  • Accepts late-arriv­ing ballots post­marked by Elec­tion Day
  • Provides post-elec­tion notice and cure oppor­tun­ity for defects on absentee-ballot envel­ope, includ­ing signa­ture mismatch or miss­ing signa­tures

Changes Still Needed:

  • Provide pre-paid post­age for voting by mail
  • Send absentee-ballot applic­a­tions to all voters who have not yet applied

In-Person Voting

Even with expan­ded mail voting oppor­tun­ity, states cannot close polling places. To do so may disen­fran­chise voters without Inter­net and mail access, or those who do not wish to cast a ballot by mail. In-person voting must be done in accord­ance with health guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Prepar­at­ory Meas­ures New York Already Has Taken:

  • In-person early voting

Changes Still Needed:

  • Ensure suffi­cient polling places are open and resourced on Elec­tion Day🔸
  • Open more in-person early voting loca­tions🔸
  • Take proper public health precau­tions to ensure safe polling places🔸
  • Hold train­ing sessions for polling-place work­ers well in advance of Elec­tion Day, so that elec­tion offi­cials can better anti­cip­ate prob­lems with staff­ing and logist­ics🔸
  • Increase access to curb­side voting at polling loca­tions

Advocacy Focus: Protect­ing Polling Places

No matter how prepared New York is as a matter of policy, elec­tions offi­cials and advoc­ates must stay vigil­ant about ensur­ing safe, healthy in-person voting is an option for every­one all the way through Elec­tion Day. Here are some import­ant things to know about who makes decisions about polling places in New York and what rules govern the process:

  • State law requires local boards of elec­tion to desig­nate polling loca­tions by March 15 of each year. Altern­at­ive loca­tions may be desig­nated, subject to notice require­ments.🔸
  • Local boards of elec­tion have the power to estab­lish addi­tional loca­tions for early voting beyond the minimum required, and they can have such loca­tions open for addi­tional hours beyond the minimum required.🔸

Key Dates for New York Elec­tions

  • May 29, 2020: Dead­line to register to vote for the Primary Elec­tion
  • June 13 – 21, 2020: Early Voting for Primary Elec­tion
  • June 23, 2020: Primary Elec­tion Day
  • Octo­ber 9, 2020: Dead­line to register to vote for the General Elec­tion
  • Octo­ber 24 – Novem­ber 1, 2020: Early Voting for General Elec­tion
  • Octo­ber 27, 2020: Post­mark dead­line for absentee-ballot applic­a­tion for General Elec­tion
  • Novem­ber 2, 2020: Last day to apply in person for an absentee ballot for General Elec­tion
  • Novem­ber 3, 2020: General Elec­tion Day