Wondering how to vote in New York’s primary election next month and what races will be on the ballot? You’re not alone. While state officials have taken steps to reduce the need for in-person voting, there’s plenty of confusion around how to get a ballot, what they’ll look like, and when we’ll know the outcome of the races.

And it’s a competitive election season with races for Congress, a City Council seat, and the office of the Queens Borough President. Because exercising your civic duty to vote seems even more challenging (but just as important!) during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are offering some answers to your frequently asked questions.

I hear a lot of talk of vote by mail. Is the Board of Elections going to just mail me a ballot?

No, not unless two things are true. First, you must be an eligible voter, meaning you are a registered member of a party that has a primary next month. Then second, you must apply for a ballot. Because of the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order last month that allows people to apply for an absentee ballot citing “temporary illness” which covers those with the virus, and those who don’t want to risk exposure to it. A subsequent order required all local Board of Elections offices to mail every eligible voter an absentee ballot application to make the process of obtaining a valid ballot easier. Here in New York City, our Board of Elections will begin mailing 3.6 million absentee ballot applications to voters today.

So I just wait for the form to show up in my mailbox?

That’s one option. Then you need to make sure to fill that out in blue or black ink and mail it back to the Board of Elections in the postage paid envelope. Better yet, go right now to vote.nyc and complete the application online. Or, if you don't have access to a computer, you can call the New York City Board of Elections and request your absentee ballot by phone (1-866-VOTE-NYC / 1-866-868-3692). The most important thing here -- DON'T WAIT. The deadline to apply for a ballot is June 16th using any of these means.

The cut-off to apply for a ballot in person at a Board of Elections office is June 22nd, but keep in mind that the goal right now is limit interactions as much as possible, for the health and safety of voters and election employees. So if you can apply for a ballot using another means, that’s the best option.

Ok, so if I apply online or by phone today for my absentee ballot, what happens next?

When that application is received by the BOE, a bipartisan team (meaning a Democrat and a Republican) must review each application and confirm that the voter is in fact eligible to receive a ballot. That’s standard operating procedure for the BOE. Once the application is verified, the BOE will send that information to two vendors upstate that are printing and mailing the ballots, given how many more people are expected to vote by absentee / vote by mail in this election.

Listen to reporter Brigid Bergin's story for WNYC:

How many people will vote by mail?

There’s no way to know what the turnout will be before an election. But this absentee ballot program is a major shift from how New York normally conducts an election. For context, for all the elections in 2016, including the presidential primary in April, a federal primary in June, a state primary in September and the general election in November, the city BOE processed fewer than 300,000 absentee ballots, according to their annual report. For this June 23rd primary alone, they are issuing applications to nearly 4 million people.

What’s this about a “national envelope shortage”?

When the New York City Board of Elections met for their weekly commissioners meeting last Tuesday, BOE Executive Director Mike Ryan made a comment that raised some concern about a potential delay in mailing the ballots.

“There still is an envelope shortage,” Ryan told the commissioners. “So we will be at the mercy in terms of our ability to mail out absentee ballots, we will be at the mercy of the availability of envelopes. My understanding is that both vendors have made their envelope orders and they are waiting for final dates on when they would receive those envelopes. But clearly the letters will not deliver themselves and they need to be in envelopes. And the national envelope shortage is real and is affecting everyone. So that's the reality.”

Wait -- what?

Later in the meeting, Ryan walked the comment back, and said ballots should start to go out the next week, the week of Memorial Day. But when WNYC/Gothamist reached out to both of the vendors about the issue, neither responded.

Ok, what do I need to know about my ballot when it arrives?

It will arrive based on when you applied for it - the longer you wait, the later that will be. The contests you vote on depend on where you are registered and what the courts decide on the Democratic presidential primary (an Appeals Court held a hearing Friday over whether to reverse a lower court decision reinstating it). If the presidential primary remains on schedule, it will be on a separate ballot from whatever other contests you may be voting in. This is the primary for congressional nominations, like the crowded race for the Democratice nomination in NY15 in the South Bronx, along with state legislative primaries. (More information on those other races coming soon!)

In some cases, those presidential primary ballots will actually have the original April 28th primary date printed on them.

The State told localities it was alright to go ahead and mail them since they were already printed before the governor changed the date.

Can I check to see if the Board of Elections received my ballot?

Sure, if you live in the state of Georgia where they have this amazing portal. Here in the Empire State, sadly there is nothing like that. (Excelsior!)

What happens if my ballot doesn't come in the mail?

Fingers crossed, your ballot will come in the mail. But unfortunately, even when we were not struggling with a pandemic, the post office has not always been completely reliable when it comes to BOE mail.

If for some reason you apply for a ballot, it does not arrive and you are willing to go to a poll site, early voting starts on Saturday June 13th and runs through Sunday June 21st (NYC locations here). There will also be poll sites open on June 23rd, Primary Day. In person voting is also an option for voters who need assistance due to a disability or for language access.

Can I still register to vote in this election?

Yes, but you need to register with a party that’s having a primary to participate. If you have an account with the Department of Motor Vehicles, you can complete a voter registration form online. Otherwise, you need to fill out a paper form and mail it to the Board of Elections, which is why some people have been pushing the state to implement a broader voter registration system. Registration forms must be postmarked no later than Friday, May 29th. If you are already registered and wanted to change your party affiliation, the cut off date has already passed. It was Valentine’s Day.

And what should a voter do if they need more information?

There is a coalition sharing information about what people need to do to get their ballots led by NYC Votes, which is part of the city’s Campaign Finance Board. You can also check the websites of the New York State and New York City Board of Elections.