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Commentary & Opinion

Blair Horner: A Nation Of Laws And Democracy

Americans pride themselves on living in a nation governed by laws, not the whims of those in power.  Those laws are determined by representatives elected by us.

And while those basic rights are often threatened, it is through the ballot box that we can “reset” our democracy.  In New York, the voting process and the ability to “reset” has been improved in two important ways. 

New York State has relaxed its absentee ballot requirements and last year allowed early voting

Under the New York State Constitution, voters who cannot make it to the polls on an election day, are allowed to request an absentee ballot.  In the past, an acceptable reason for obtaining an absentee ballot has been due to either an illness or some travel that made it impossible to cast one’s vote on election day.

Due to the pandemic, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order that allows all eligible New Yorkers to request an absentee ballot.  The state this year sent every registered voter a postage-paid application for an absentee ballot and allowed all New Yorkers to vote absentee because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to cast an absentee ballot for the primary, the request for the ballot must be submitted by Tuesday June 16th and the ballot has to be postmarked no later than June 23rd, which is primary day.

Also for this primary, New Yorkers will be able to not only cast their ballots on primary day, but during the ten days prior as well.  Under New York’s early voting law, voters now have the convenience of casting their ballots for a ten-day period prior to the election.  Starting last Saturday, New Yorkers can vote early at select locations within the county in which they live.

Voters will be deciding which candidates will face off in November in races for the state legislature, municipal governments, state judges and congressional districts.

All counties must have at least one such site, but larger counties can have many more.  Each locality sets the dates, location and times when the polls are open.  Voters will have a 10-day window to vote at designated polling places in each county through Sunday, June 21.

Looking ahead, in order to register to vote for the upcoming November 3, 2020 general election, an eligible New Yorker will have to be registered to vote no later than October 9, 2020.  Early voting will start on October 24th.

Those are some of the important rules that voters must follow to ensure that their voices are heard.  But those voices can only be heard if voters follow the rules and show up to vote.

Undoubtedly, we will see more and more stories about how difficult it is to vote.  Voters in the state of Georgia last week, for example, had to endure long lines and waited for hours to vote in their primary elections.  And there is no doubt that there will be efforts to subvert the voting process as a way to undermine turnout and thus swing the election.

Unfortunately, attempts to steal elections are not new to America.  Suppressing voter participation can take the form of reducing resources to run an election – resulting in long lines – and challenging the rights of legitimate voters to cast their ballots.  These disgraceful efforts are all too frequent.

However, not voting only helps those anti-democratic individuals and forces.  Not participating essentially caves into the demands of the powerful to maintain power.

We live in a nation based on laws.  And those laws are set by the officials we have chosen to represent us.  If we choose not to participate – whether due to our own laziness or because we fail to challenge efforts to block our vote – we cede our power.  The result is a nation of laws written by the powerful few to govern the many.

That’s not America.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors.They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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