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Borrello: Ballot Request Bill done hastily

State Sen. George Borrello is pictured speaking on the state Senate floor regarding S.631.

The state Senate has approved legislation that would allow applications for absentee ballots to be received by county elections boards earlier than 30 days before an election.

S.631, sponsored by Sen. Julia Salazar, D-Brooklyn, was approved Monday in a 43-20 party line vote. It has been delivered to the state Assembly for consideration. The proposal was actually initially adopted last year but sunsetted on Dec. 31.

“Due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 there has been a substantial increase in voters choosing to vote by absentee ballot,” Salazar wrote in her legislative justification. “By allowing boards to start accepting applications for absentee ballots earlier in the political calendar, it will ease the administrative burden on boards to approve the applications and send out corresponding absentee ballots in a timely fashion. Absentee voters will benefit by receiving absentee ballots as timely as possible before the applicable Election Day.’

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, questioned the bill on the floor of the state Senate, asking what would prevent a voter from asking for an absentee ballot years in advance of an election. Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn, answered that a voter would have to provide a full date for an election, which prompted Borrello to ask about presidential elections that are affixed to certain days on the calendar, but for which a date can quickly be ascertained.

“I would disagree with the premise such a request can be made, but assuming it could, the county Board of Elections would be responsible,” Myrie said.

The legislation comes at no cost to the state, but Borrello said in his remarks on the bill that the legislation creates an unfunded mandate on counties while also criticizing the unintended consequences of an open-ended ability to request absentee ballot applications.

“So now we’re going to continue to burden local government,” Borrello said. “But on top of that we are really removing any restrictions because the language that we’ve amended now, and it’s very small amendment, opens up a wide array of issues. I can send a letter to request something. We have dates for elections going well into the future. So the issue for me really is what’s to stop this from happening, from Boards of Elections being inundated with requests for ballots. You might say that’s never going to happen. Well, not so. Recently we made changes to the 50-a rule. And we said, ‘Don’t worry, nothing bad’s going to happen.’ And yet we had an out-of-state company send requests to police agencies through New York state requesting personnel files for every police officer in their department dating back to 1972. So, the unintended consequence there was a tremendous burden on those local governments for something that was frivolous at best. This change has the same potential. This was done hastily and should not pass today.”

Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island and deputy minority leader, noted that Borrello’s opposition wasn’t to allowing earlier requests for absentee ballots but the lack of language in the bill limiting when a ballot could be requested. Lanza also noted Myrie’s thought that the legislation doesn’t allow ballots to be requested years in advance, but that such requests aren’t a good idea either. Lanza also voted against the legislation because of the lack of specificity.

“In listening to the debate between Sen. Borrello and Sen. Myrie I learned that there is an area of disagreement but also an area of agreement here,” Lanza said. “The contention by Sen. Borrello is that this legislation would allow someone to request a ballot for, say, 2032. I heard Sen. Myrie say, it seemed to me, suggest that he did not believe that the legislation would allow that, but moreover that he didn’t think it was a good idea either. It sems to me upon reading the legislation that there is nothing here that would preclude that. So given that there is this agreement here, I would respectfully request of the sponsor to review the legislation and ensure that before this were to go to the governor, if it does, that that is worked out and that is clearly specified in the legislation.”

Also passed in a party line vote was S.632, sponsored by Sen. Robert Jackson, D-New York City, which would create an electronic application to request an absentee ballot.

“This legislation will help increase voter participation during the by recognizing additional ways that qualified voters may request an absentee ballot. It also will result in more absentee ballots being counted by allowing ballots in envelopes showing cancellation mark with a date not later than the day of the election to be counted,” Jackson wrote in his legislative justification.

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