New York State Election administrators are urging lawmakers to act swiftly to delay the upcoming Democratic presidential primary in April and to take other legislative or executive action to ensure democracy can function during and immediately after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a statement sent Tuesday to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a bipartisan group of election commissioners warned that local election boards were putting the health and safety of their own staff at risk trying to prepare for impending elections on April 28th, 2020. 

“We can’t really put things on hold because unless the governor doesn’t move things around, we still have to make this happen,” said Kelly Penziul, the president of the Election Commissioners’ Association of the State of New York and the Democratic Commissioner of the Steuben County Board of Elections.

Penziul said workers at her office and across the state were coming in to work to prepare machines, create ballots, and complete the voter registration process ahead of the upcoming primary. The early voting period for this election is scheduled to run from April 18th - 26th, which overlaps with the dates Governor Cuomo has repeatedly said the state expects the virus to be at its peak. 

So far, state leaders have not indicated whether they intend to address the issue. Cuomo said Tuesday at a briefing focused on hospital beds and equipment that he hadn’t thought about the issue yet. Senate Democratic Majority spokesperson Gary Ginsburg said they are considering a delay because of the ongoing pandemic. Michael Whyland, a spokesperson for New York Assembly Majority Leader Carl Heastie, declined to comment. 

Still, several state lawmakers have introduced legislation to make changes to election dates and operations because of the coronavirus outbreak. State Senator James Skoufis, a Democrat from Orange County, and Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat, both proposed legislation that would delay the primary to June 23rd, when voters are already scheduled to vote in primaries for state lawmakers and members of Congress.

Good government groups are also weighing in on when and how the election should happen. Speaking on The Brian Lehrer Show on Tuesday, Susan Lerner, head of Common Cause New York, said she supported pushing the presidential primary back to June. But Common Cause does not back a vote-by-mail process, which some lawmakers are pushing at the federal level.

In most vote-by-mail systems, voters are automatically mailed a ballot based on the address they have on file with the Board of Elections. But in previous lawsuits, Common Cause NY successfully argued that New York State and City were not reliable when it came to maintaining the accuracy of their voter rolls.

Instead, Lerner said Common Cause wanted the state of New York to make it easier for voters to access absentee ballots, improving the chances that ballots will find the correct voters.

“An absentee ballot situation is one where you provide the Board of Elections with your current address so that when they mail it back to you, it goes to the right place,” said Lerner.

Either option would require a change by the state.

The pandemic already changed one election date: March 24th  was supposed to be the date of special election for borough president in Queens. Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order last week canceling it. 

Pending approval of the state, the city will move the date of the special election to June 23rd, along with the special election for City Council District 37, according to a spokesperson for City Hall. 

Speaking at a briefing on Monday, de Blasio said he did not see how an in-person election in April would be feasible.

“I think you have to figure out a delay because I don't think it's realistic to have it in April under these conditions,” said de Blasio.  “We either need a new alternative or we need a delay,” he said.