This year, the most consequential general election of our lifetimes is occurring during a global pandemic—throwing new variables into how you may carry out your civic duty. Here are answers to some of your pressing questions (and part 2 is here):
How can I vote?
The same way you always do—either in person at your assigned poll-site during the early voting period, October 24th through November 1st, or on Election Day, November 3rd. Or by mailing your absentee ballot (with proper postage paid!) so it is postmarked by November 3rd. You can find both your early voting and Election Day poll sites here.
For voting by absentee ballot, keep in mind, the United States Postal Service issued guidance to voters across the country, “as a common sense measure” to mail your ballot at least one week before your state’s deadline. That would be October 27th in New York.
However, a new law signed by Governor Cuomo this summer requires absentee ballots received the day after Election Day with or without a postmark to be counted.
Got it? Go in person if you can. Or mail the absentee ballot at least a week in advance of November 3rd—and you'll need the correct amount of postage. More on that below.
Can I still ask for an absentee ballot?
Yes! Technically you can still apply online, email, fax(!), or with a mailed application postmarked October 27th. You can apply in person at the Board of Elections until November 2nd. HOWEVER, applying sooner rather than later is a better bet. One of the biggest frustrations we heard from voters after the June primary was that their absentee ballot arrived late or not at all. One of the contributing factors to those delays was the flood of last minute absentee ballot applications.
So about my absentee ballot—I'm one of the almost 100,000 people who got one of the botched ballots. I don’t have the correct return envelope!
Yes, a NYC Board of Elections vendor made an error and mismatched absentee ballots and their return envelopes; the envelopes had the wrong names and addresses on them. The envelopes must have the correct name and address because after a voter inserts their ballot into the envelope, known as the “oath” envelope, they must sign the envelope below a statement vowing they are a registered and eligible voter.
The Board is sending out new absentee ballot packages to all potentially impacted voters starting the week of October 9th. The Board is also advising voters to destroy the first package they received, even if they managed to reunite with their properly labeled return envelope. (We heard a lot of civic-minded Brooklynites did this.) Voters are advised to submit the ballot and envelope from the second mailing.
Wait, I already mailed the first ballot back and I have no idea if my name was on it.
That’s why the Board is sending everyone who could have potentially been impacted by this a new absentee ballot envelope and ballot. Fill out the new one (the Board says the second ballots will have a red stripe them) and return it either in the mail or in person. More details on that process below.
Does this mean I am voting twice?
No. You cannot vote twice. Repeat: nobody can vote twice. If you received the erroneous envelope printed with someone else’s name and you signed it, the ballot envelope would be automatically voided because the name on the front won’t match the signature on the back.
If you return a properly labeled envelope, it will count. But that means you must be SURE your ballot was correct. That’s why the Board is still advising people to complete and return the second ballot. Only one vote counts.
How do I complete my absentee ballot correctly?
When you go to complete the ballot, be sure not to write any messages on it or insert any extraneous documents into your oath envelope. Avoid making any stray marks on the ballot. Just fill in the ovals for your selected candidates.
After completing the ballot, insert it into the oath envelope. Confirm on the front of the envelope that your name and address are printed on the far-left side. TURN THE ENVELOPE OVER. There is a box in the lower right corner. It should have a red X next to it (although we have heard of a few misprints). Sign your name in the box and date it. Put the signed oath envelope into the envelope addressed to the New York City Board of Elections office in your respective borough. Apply appropriate postage (scroll down for more on that). See steps above for more information about how to deliver it.
Can I track my ballot?
Yes. Were it not for the Brooklyn absentee ballot debacle, we could have been focusing on one of the most positive innovations from the city BOE for this election and that’s their new absentee ballot tracker. The site will allow you to confirm that your absentee ballot application was received by the Board, see when they mailed your ballot, and when they received it back from you.
Oh, also my ballot says "ABSENTEE MILITARY BALLOT" but I'm not a veteran—do I need a new one?
No, that was also a printer error. It should have read “Absentee / Military Ballot.” The Board of Elections tells us voters can use this ballot even if they are not in the military or veterans.
But if I was not in the military and I sign this ballot, am I committing voter fraud by signing it?
YOU DO NOT SIGN THE BALLOT. We have secret ballots. You only sign the return oath envelope so the Board of Elections knows that you cast a vote (just like signing the poll book, now poll pad when you show up at a poll site in person). Once you submit your ballot, the Board does not know which ballot is yours or who you voted for, they just record that you voted.
My post office told me it costs 70 cents to mail by ballot! That's more than a Forever stamp.
Yes. Oddly enough, the Board provided pre-paid postage for the absentee ballots during the primary, but didn’t for the general election. You’ll need to get your ballot weighed to find out what the proper postage is—it’s actually different in each borough—but using two 55 cent Forever stamps is a good idea. We have repeatedly asked the Board of Elections and the United States Postal Service for this information. Neither one has provided it. (If they get back to us, we'll let you know.)
But here is the secret that shouldn't be a secret: the United States Postal Service is still supposed to deliver any mail ballots with insufficient or unpaid postage, according to Amy Gibbs, Strategic Communications Specialist for U.S. Postal Service in the Connecticut Valley, Western Mass, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. “In cases where a ballot enters the mailstream without the proper amount of postage, the Postal Service will attempt to collect postage from the appropriate Board of Elections,” Gibbs noted.
As an alternative, if you feel comfortable venturing out, you can also bring your ballot to a polling site during the early voting period or on Election Day. There will be secure drop boxes at all poll sites and Board of Elections offices where a voter can deposit their ballot.
Okay, I have an absentee ballot, but I think I want to vote in person now.
In New York State, that is your right. Even if you already mailed your absentee ballot, you can decide at any point while polls are open to go and vote in person. Before the Board of Elections begins counting any absentee ballots, they check to make sure you didn’t cast a vote in-person. If you did, your absentee ballot will not be counted.
Absentee ballots need to be postmarked by November 3rd, so mail your ballot a least a week before.
Early voting is October 24th through November 1st—find your polling site and hours here.
Election Day is November 3rd—find your polling site here.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have other questions.
This post has been updated to clarify that the absentee ballot envelope (not ballot) should be turned over for a signature.