Friday, May 22, 2020

New York State has to do a better job with voting by mail

New York State is not among the states with leadership that aims to suppress voter turnout and make it harder for people to vote. Its leaders are not like the 5 Supreme Court Justices who evidently are fine (or perhaps better than fine) with forcing voters who they very well know are primarily Democrats to risk death from the pandemic as the price of exercising the constitutional right to vote.

Yet New York State needs to get its act together, better than it has so far, if it wants to make sure that voting by mail is a sufficiently available option this November. I base this on my own experience with the State's well-intentioned effort to expand the availability of voting by mail for the June 23 Democratic Party. They're trying to do it right, but there are a couple of glitches that need to be ironed out.

Yesterday I got an application form for voting by mail in the primary. Here it is, with the lines that list my mailing address, etc., blotted out.
Here are the main problems:

1) My basis for requesting an absentee ballot comes from the second line in Box 1 on the top. I have checked the line that says "temporary illness or physical disability (including affected/potential COVID 19)." The bolded text offers my basis for checking the box. Yet on its face it's ambiguous. Am I entitled to check it, absent any actual temporary illness or physical disability of which I am aware? The cover letter on the flip side of this page makes it clear that mere fear of contracting COVID 19 supports requesting an absentee ballot. And they've added the bolded language to the preexisting form itself to help make that clear. But it doesn't really quite fit. Potential COVID 19, or even reasonable fear of contracting it, isn't really quite (or at least unambiguously) a subclass of "temporary illness or physical disability." I'd consider the interpretation allowing me to check this box in good faith to be uncertain at best, if not for the "legislative history" confirming that this is within the intended scope.

2) In Box 6, which I've partly obscured due to the personal info printed a few lines above it, I have 2 options. One is to have my ballot picked up by me or my designee at the Board of Elections, an option that doesn't make enormous sense here. So I've checked instead the box that says: "Mail ballot to me at (check box and complete ONLY if address is different than mailing address."

My first reading of this phrase led me to think that I couldn't use this option unless I was submitting a mailing address for the ballot that differed from my regular mailing address. This would have made the entire exercise pointless. Upon further reflection, I concluded that the words could only reasonably mean: "if you check box, complete the line below ONLY to supply an alternate mailing address if needed."

Yes, it's trivial, but a confusing and ill-drafted form like this is NOT going to get the job done in November, when the whole thing may matter a lot more.


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