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Eric Friedman
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Kathryn Inman
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New York City Bar Urges Institution of No-Excuse Absentee Voting in New York

New York, NY, June 18, 2010 – New York State would greatly benefit from the institution of a no-excuse absentee voting system, as other states have, and should amend the state constitution to establish this procedure, argues a new report issued by the New York City Bar Association.

The report, produced by the City Bar’s Election Law Committee, addresses no-excuse absentee voting, a reform that has already been enacted in nearly thirty states, which removes from the Election Law any requirement that voters provide an excuse before being issued an absentee ballot. Enactment of no-excuse absentee voting in New York would allow New York registered voters who find themselves unable to appear at their local poll site on Election Day, regardless of the reason for their absence, to vote in advance of the election using an absentee ballot.

As a matter of policy, the Committee believes that “voting should be easy and common. As a result, any reform to expand the franchise and make voting more convenient for those who otherwise have difficulty doing so is worthy of serious consideration.”

New York law currently requires voters requesting an absentee ballot to provide an excuse for their inability to vote at their designated polling place. A list of acceptable excuses includes unavoidable absence from the county of residence due to duties, occupation, business, studies, or vacation and inability to vote due to illness or physical disability. Any voter with an excuse to vote absentee other than one of the enumerated excuses, such as child care, is not entitled to an absentee ballot under current New York law.

As of October 2008, twenty-eight states had no-excuse absentee voting, allowing citizens to vote by absentee ballot without providing a reason for not voting at the precinct on Election Day. According to the Election Assistance Commission, states that have no-excuse absentee voting have more absentee voters than states that require an excuse.

In evaluating whether New York’s electoral process would benefit from implementing no-excuse absentee voting, the City Bar’s Report considers several policy factors:

  • Necessity to modernize, ease voting experience and increase voter participation : New York’s voter turnout has historically ranked among the lowest in the nation. Removing barriers to voting absentee would allow more people to vote in the manner most convenient for them. New York’s current absentee voting laws also have the potential to disproportionately benefit those with high socioeconomic status.
  • Impact on poll site lines and administrative burden: A no-excuse absentee voting system is likely to reduce both poll lines and the administrative burden on election officials, thereby decreasing the total cost of administering elections.
  • Propensity for fraud: People are as likely to provide a false excuse on an absentee ballot under the current system as they are to obtain a ballot when no excuse is required.
  • Effects of no-excuse absentee voting on election litigation: Removal of the requirement that a voter provide an excuse for not voting at the polls removes the principal basis for challenging absentee ballots, therefore the number of challenged and litigated ballots will decrease.

The Committee believes that this change must be done by constitutional amendment, as the state constitution currently precludes the Legislature from enacting no-excuse absentee voting by statute.

The full report is available at http://bit.ly/cUubjC

About the Association

The New York City Bar Association (www.nycbar.org) was founded in 1870, and since then has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the profession, promoting reform of the law, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.