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Hochul to sign new law preventing absentee ballots from being tossed for stray marks

Native election boards will probably be required to settle for extra absentee ballots beneath a new law Gov. Kathy Hochul is anticipated to sign Friday.

Underneath the measure, handed in Albany’s newest session, officers will probably be in a position to settle for ballots with extraneous marks, so long as the voter’s selections are clear. Up to now, any stray mark or writing on a poll past deciding on a candidate was grounds to invalidate an individual’s vote.

New Yorkers have relied on absentee ballots all through the COVID-19 pandemic in record-breaking numbers. In 2020, election officers distributed greater than 2 million absentee ballots to voters statewide, roughly seven occasions the quantity distributed in 2018, in accordance to information from the state Board of Elections. Whereas officers counted 1.7 million returned absentee ballots, greater than 77,000 had been tossed out for quite a lot of causes, together with stray marks.

“No ballot should be disqualified because of a single errant pen stroke, and the legislation we’re signing today marks a major step forward to ensure New Yorkers’ unambiguous votes are counted,” Hochul said in a statement provided to Gothamist ahead of the bill’s signing. The law takes effect immediately, and just before the upcoming June primary.

This latest change builds on a series of reforms to state election law ushered in by Democratic legislative leaders when they took majority control of both chambers in 2019. Since that time, lawmakers have approved early voting, automatic voter registration and increased access to absentee ballots. They’ve also adopted a cure process for absentee and affidavit ballots with certain errors, like a missing date or signature, giving the ballots a greater chance of being counted.

However, stray marks are not covered by the cure process.

“The bar for disqualifying a valid ballot, where the voter’s intent is clear, should be extremely high — and a stray scribble or two shouldn’t be the reason anyone is disenfranchised,” said State Sen. Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn, chair of the elections committee and lead sponsor of the legislation. Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Westchester County sponsored the bill’s equivalent in the Assembly.

“We should always look for ways to ensure more qualified voters can participate in democracy, and this law will remove another technicality that has been used to eliminate valid votes,” Myrie added.

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