New York: Here's How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

Grace Han/Thrillist

The 2020 General Election has us all participating in a new kind of debate: How do we guarantee our votes count amid  COVID-19 uncertainty and chaos? Thankfully, New York makes it fairly easy to avoid the polls if you're concerned about your safety, offering straightforward deadlines and simple mail-in options to all residents. The online, mail-in, and in-person registration deadlines are all the same, for example, and anyone can request an absentee ballot regardless of age, health condition, or profession. 

We've put together a guide of everything you need to know, including the aforementioned deadlines and updated CDC guidelines for staying safe at the polls. When following deadlines, especially if you're going the mail-in route, make sure you calculate the time it will probably take for things to be sent and received via USPS. Always play it safe if you can, and always, always feel comfortable asking your local government offices for guidance. 

What’s the deadline to register to vote in New York?

There are a few ways to register to vote in this election in New York and they all come with the same deadline: October 9. If you're registering by mail, be careful to make sure you get your envelope in the mail early enough to be postmarked by its due date and received by no later than October 14. Send it even earlier if you can, to avoid any postmark complications. 

If you're wondering if you are already registered to vote, enter your information into this tool and find out.

How to register to vote in New York

The easiest -- and perhaps the safest -- way to register is online via the state's online registration form. If you're concerned about crowded election offices and mail delays, then this is the way to go. 

If you're unable to or don't want to register online, you have other options, per that state's voter registration info page:

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in New York?

Yes, New York offers early voting.

Anyone in New York can vote before Election Day. The early voting period runs from October 24, 2020 through November 1, but dates and times vary slightly depending on where you live. Here's where you find out your voting location before and on the day of the election. Make sure you bring a valid state ID in either circumstance. Absentee ballots are also a way to vote early without going somewhere in person, which -- good news -- anybody can do in NY (more on that below). 

Can I vote by mail?

Yes. Voters in NY can request an absentee ballot to receive and return by mail. If you want to avoid lines at polling places and encountering your fellow voters altogether because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the way to go. 

How to request an absentee ballot in New York

While the state's absentee ballot request form requires you to select an excuse for needing this type of ballot, anyone can choose the "temporary illness or physical disability" option on the form as a way to cite fear of getting coronavirus, according to the state. There are a handful of ways to apply, but the easiest, fastest, and safest is to apply online. Here are all of the options:

The deadline to complete a request for an absentee ballot any of the above ways is October 27, but you absolutely should not wait that long to get yours submitted, especially if you're sending it back in the mail. Get your absentee ballot request in as soon as you possibly can because the state will need to process the request and mail your ballot to you, which could take time. 

How to vote absentee by mail in New York

UPDATE: Take a close look at the return envelope included with your absentee ballot to make sure the address on it matches your address. New York election officials are sending out new absentee ballots to about 100,000 voters in Brooklyn because the initial ones included return envelopes with the wrong information on them, according to a report by The Washington Post.

Once you receive your absentee ballot, the most stressful part of the process is out of the way. From there, all you'll have to do is follow the instructions, fill out your ballot, and return it to be counted. Thankfully, the state offers a step-by-step guide on how to vote absentee, per its absentee voting information site:

1. Mark your choices for each office while following the instructions

2. Fold your completed ballot and place it in the security envelope it came with

3. Sign and date the outside of the security envelope

4. Seal the security envelope

5. Put the security envelope in the return envelope it came with (the state notes this envelope will have the return address of your county Board of Elections on the outside and should have a logo that reads, “Official Election Mail”)

6. Seal the return envelope

7. Return the ballot one of the following ways to be counted: via mail postmarked no later than November 3, hand delivering it to your local county board of elections office no later than November 3 at 9pm, delivering it to an early voting site between October 24 and November 1, or delivering it to a poll site on Election Day by 9pm

If you're planning to send your absentee ballot back via mail, the state has a warning for you: "When mailing your completed ballot, the USPS recommends that voters allow enough time for ballots to be returned to the Board, which is generally seven days ahead of the general election. New York State requires your ballot to be both postmarked by November 3, 2020 and received by our Board by November 10, 2020. Voters who mail in their ballots on Election Day must be aware of the posted collection times on collection boxes and at the Postal Service’s retail facilities, and that ballots entered after the last posted collection time will not be postmarked until the following business day."

Again, get you ballot in the mail well ahead of the deadline. Procrastinating could mean that your vote won't be counted.

Is there a way to track my absentee ballot? How can I make sure it’s counted?

NY offers a ballot tracking tool, but if you'd like to track your actual letter from start to finish, you can go to the post office and add certified mail service to your letter. Then you'll be given part of a tracking label, which you can use to find your letter via the USPS's website

Another measure you can take to help make sure you vote is counted is to make sure you sign your signature to match what the state has on file with your voter registration. It's also a good idea to avoid tearing or otherwise damaging your voter materials -- you don't want you ballot to be thrown out on some sort of technicality.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

Use the state's polling place locator to find where and when you can vote in person on Election Day.

It's important for you to review COVID-19 safety guidelines and plan your trip to the polls accordingly. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued several recommendations for how to keep yourself and others safe while voting in person this November.

Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends, according to its official election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them. This is where hand sanitizer comes in handy. Use it after you touch the voting equipment or any other equipment at your precinct. If you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried before casting your ballot or touching any of the equipment present.
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't at its busiest. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is or making a plan to vote early in the dat.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location. Knowing who you plan on voting for in each race will save you time inside the polling station. 

Additional New York voting resources

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