November 2020 Election Primer for New York

Tuesday, November 3, 2020, is election day.  There will be many important races this year, including the Presidential election, the election of all members of the United States House of Representatives, select members of the United States Senate, and all 213 members of the New York State Legislature. 

For New York State residents that want to vote in these upcoming elections, the deadline to register is Friday, October 9. A resident is eligible to register to vote if they are a U.S. citizen, a resident of the state and the county, city, or village in which you are registering, and will be at least 18 years old on or by November 3.  Anyone not registered to vote by this deadline will be ineligible to vote in the upcoming election.  Registering to vote can be done online or in person through October 9, or through the mail if your registration form is postmarked by October 9.  The New York State Board of Elections estimates that it takes about 5 minutes to register.  For information on how to register to vote online, visit here.

While an election year that includes the Presidential election always receives a lot of attention, this year is being watched even more closely because of the potential impact of the Coronavirus on the election process.  It is anticipated that there will be record breaking votes cast through absentee voting.  While absentee voting is an option for any election, concerns related to being out in public during a global health pandemic are driving more voters to opt to vote by mail-in ballot.  In fact, earlier this year, the New York State legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a bill that allows voters in New York to request an absentee ballot because of COVID-19.  Previously, an absentee ballot could only be requested if a voter has a temporary or permanent illness or disability.  The new law amended the definition of temporary illness to include being unable to appear in person to vote due to risk of contracting or spreading a communicable disease like COVID-19.

If you are interested in voting by absentee ballot, your request must be received by October 27.  To find details on how to request an absentee ballot, you can go here or contact your local county board of elections.  To find information on your local county board of elections, visit here. To have your vote counted, the absentee ballot must be returned in person or postmarked by November 3.  If you are opting to bring your absentee ballot in person, check with your county board of elections to determine where your ballot can be returned.

For those planning to vote in person in New York, there will be early voting for the first time ever in a Presidential election year.  Early voting in New York will begin on Saturday, October 24 and will run through November 1.  In order to find your early voting locations and hours of operation, you will need to check with your local county board of elections.

If you choose to vote in person on election day itself, the polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., and your local county board of elections should be sending you a postcard with your polling location listed.  If you did not receive this information, you can call your local county board of elections or visit this link, which will inform you of your polling location.

While some may feel that they don’t need to vote because their vote doesn’t matter, this could not be further from the truth.  Depending on the race and where you live, your vote may very well have a deciding impact on your local elections.  As noted above, all 213 members of the New York State legislature are up for reelection this year.  In many instances, these elections end up being very close.  We have seen seats in the New York State Senate decided by a vote margin as small as 17 votes. 

Given the high number of absentee ballots that are anticipated to be cast this year, it is unlikely that we will know many election results on election night.  The vote counting will likely take a few weeks before it is finalized and certified by the New York State Board of Elections.  We will be monitoring the election results very closely, and we will provide details on election results once they are finalized.

One race that we know will be closely monitored is the Presidential election. While various news organizations in recent years have taken to “calling” the winners on election night, this has never been a formal or official vote recognition.  As a reminder, unlike all other elections in the United States that are decided by the popular vote, the Presidential race is decided by the Electoral College. To officially win the election, a candidate must win a majority of the electoral votes. 

The Electoral College has 538 electors, with each state getting as many electors as it has members of Congress and with Washington, DC getting three electors.  If no candidate receives a majority vote, the House of Representatives chooses the President, and the Senate chooses the Vice President.  The members of the Electoral College do not meet until December 14 to cast their formal ballots.  Even once this is done, the winner of the Presidential election is not official until January 5, when the new Congress will certify the election results. Once certified, the winner will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021. 

In the meantime, make sure you are registered to vote and please exercise this right by or on November 3!

If you have additional questions about this update, please reach out to a member of our Government Affairs practice group for assistance:

Amy J. Kellogg
John M. Jennings

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