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What you need to know to vote in New York’s June primary

May 19, 2020 Rachel Holliday Smith THE CITY, additional reporting by Christine Chung
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For a moment, New York’s moot presidential primary was off. Then it was back on. Now, the state is trying again in court to nix it.

But with or without the likes of Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang on the ballot, New Yorkers will cast votes on June 23, the state’s primary day. Plenty of competitive congressional, state-level and local seats are up for consideration.

Because of special rules created in response to the pandemic, all New Yorkers now have the option to vote by absentee ballot. To do so, however, you have to request a ballot before June 16, then send it in.

We’ve got the information you need to be prepared for the city’s first election in the coronavirus era.

So, are we having a primary or not?

As of this writing, New York will have a primary election, including the Democratic and Republican presidential contests, which had been postponed from April 28.

On May 5, a federal judge ruled against New York state election officials who canceled the June 23 presidential contest.

Responding to a lawsuit brought by former White House hopeful Yang, District Court Judge Analisa Torres ordered New York to hold the election as scheduled in June and return all qualifying presidential candidates to the ballot — even if a Joe Biden nomination appears inevitable.

The Board of Elections has appealed that order. A spokesperson for state Attorney General Letitia James, who filed the appeal on behalf of the board, said arguments in the case are scheduled to begin May 15.

All other contested seats will be on the ballot — a great many this year, said Laura Wood, senior advisor for City Hall’s DemocracyNYC initiative.

“Even if the presidential primary is canceled, almost every election district in the city will have a primary on June 23,” she said. “It’s a relatively small number who don’t.”

Between city, state and congressional races, only a few neighborhoods in southern Brooklyn will be without at least one primary, according to the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

What’s at stake?

New Yorkers can expect competitive primaries for several Congressional races, including one for Rep. Yvette Clarke’s seat in Brooklyn, Rep. Eliot Engel’s post in The Bronx and Westchester and the soon-to-be-empty slot of Rep. Jose Serrano in the South Bronx.

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-The Bronx, Queens), meanwhile, faces a challenge from former MSNBC contributor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.

On the local level, the primaries will include two tumultuous races for a new Queens borough president and a replacement for City Councilmember Rafael Espinal, who resigned from his Bushwick district earlier this year.

How can you find out who is challenging who where you live? Use this tool from the city’s election board to plug in your address, then click the button for “Ballot Information.” It will generate a sample ballot of all the candidates in races in your district by party.

Or, use a similar tool from Ballotpedia, or check out voting guides from or the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

Andrew Yang. Photo: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

With Everything Going On, How Can I Cast My Vote?

For now, in-person voting will still happen — including nine days of early voting — despite the current stay-at-home order. But the state is making a big push for mail-in ballots.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made that possible through an executive order allowing all New Yorkers to vote using an absentee ballot during the COVID-19 crisis.

Cuomo committed to mail every registered voter with a contested election in their district a postage-paid application for an absentee ballot.

Last week, Cuomo said he’s not crazy about the idea of people going out and “standing on line to vote,” but noted the in-person primary would go forward.

“My two cents to people is, please vote by absentee ballot so you don’t have to show up,” he said during a May 6 news conference on Long Island.

So how do I get my ballot?

The state said it started sending ballot applications to every registered voter the week of May 8.

But Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of New York State, says there’s no reason to sit by the mailbox. In New York City, you can apply for a ballot online at the Board of Elections site, or by fax, email, through snail mail or by calling 1-866-VOTE-NYC.

“You don’t have to wait to get that ballot application in the mail. You can start now,” she said.

On your application, all those requesting an absentee ballot will need to check a box marked “temporary illness” as the reason for the request.

Why? What if I’m not sick?

According to Sabrina Castillo, of the city’s Campaign Finance Board, the emergency voting measure by the governor expanded the definition of temporary illness to cover not just being sick, but also “the risk of contracting the disease.”

“This is what you put, regardless of whether you’re sick or not,” she said.

For the people who have fled New York during the crisis, make sure to have the ballot sent to wherever you are staying now. The application includes a section to indicate the address of where you’d like your ballot to go.

The last day to postmark and send your ballot application is June 16. But Castillo’s advice is: Do it now.

“You don’t want to miss that window,” she said. “I would do it as soon as you can.”

Once you receive your ballot through the mail, you can mail it back — or take it (safely) to your borough’s Board of Elections office. The last day to postmark your ballot is June 22, according to the CFB. That’s also the last day you can apply for an absentee ballot in person.

If you don’t want to bother with the absentee ballot and feel safe going to the polls, you will still be able to, Wilson said. But be prepared for some changes.

The state Board of Elections commissioners have already discussed rolling back poll sites and hours — especially for early voting — “to encourage people to vote by mail instead,” she said.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn). Photo: John McCarten/New York City Council

Is that as huge an undertaking as it sounds?


“Typically, less than 4 percent of New York voters vote absentee. So to go from 4 percent to potentially 80 percent, or ideally 90 percent of people voting absentee — that’s a huge, huge jump,” Wilson noted.

At DemocracyNYC, Wood is looking at the primary as an opportunity for a simpler way to conduct elections, pointing to research that shows voter participation has gotten a boost in states that have moved to mail-in voting.

“We are very hopeful that people will take advantage of how easy this is this year,” she said — while acknowledging that “nothing is easy right now during this pandemic.”

Okay, but how do I actually cast my ballot?

If you’ve never voted by absentee ballot before, here’s what to expect:

Always use blue or black ink, said Matthew Sollars, spokesperson for the CFB, and be aware there will be two envelopes: One that will mail everything back to the Board of Elections, and one “privacy envelope” that contains your actual ballot, he said.

You’ll need to sign that envelope, he said, “to make sure your ballot is counted.”

Wilson of the LMV said to watch out for a piece of paper called a “witness slip” that may appear in your ballot, as well. Some counties in New York send them, but keep in mind: It’s not likely you’ll need to sign it.

“You don’t need a witness signature in New York State unless you had assistance filling in your ballot,” she said. “If you can’t hand mark yourself, somebody has to sign and say they helped you. But there’s no direction saying that. It’s just a slip included for a witness signature.”

Above all, be extra careful, she said, go slowly — and read everything.

“The thing I’ve been saying to everyone is just follow the directions,” she said. “Please read the directions and follow them closely!”

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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