With Election Day less than two weeks away officials are advising voters to have a game plan to make sure ballots are not only cast safely but are also counted.
In the mix of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most competitive elections in U.S. history and active tactics to suppress voters amid loads of misinformation, it’s no secret that the 2020 General Election is like no other.
According to the Pew Research Center, the way U.S. citizens vote depends on the party line. Nearly 60% of voters are at least somewhat confident that the election will be conducted fairly and accurately and around the same number say all citizens will be able to vote.
However, 6 out of 10 supporters of Republican Party candidate President Donald Trump say they plan to vote in person on Election Day with only 17% voting by mail. Over half of supporters of Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden say they plan on voting by mail.
NYC Board of Elections (BOE) Director of Communications & Public Affairs Valarie Diaz told the AmNews during a recent interview that plans are in place to make sure every vote is counted accurately and fairly. She said there are several ways New Yorkers can vote in the General
Election: absentee ballot, early voting and in person on Election Day, Nov. 3.
“To vote by absentee ballot, voters can go to vote.nyc and there’s an application that voters can fill out,” Diaz said. “It takes less than two minutes. From there, they will be given a confirmation number and they can track the progress of their application. The voter will have the ability to check the status of their application, see when the ballot was mailed, see when it was delivered and when it returns to us.”
Diaz added the deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27 but the BOE suggests requesting absentee ballots as soon as possible. Returned ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, and received by the BOE no more than seven days after Election Day.
Absentee ballots can also be dropped off in a secured ballot box and at any NYC BOE location, early voting site or Election Day poll site before 9 p.m. on Election Day.
Early voting in New York City begins Saturday, Oct. 24 and goes through Sunday, Nov. 1. There are varying schedules for when polls will be open on each day. There are a total of two weekends, early morning and evenings. Voters can find their poll site at findmypollsite.vote.nyc where a street address can be entered to find their polling location.
“For early voting you must be assigned to your poll site,” Diaz said. You just can’t go to any early voting site across the city. All registered voters received in the mail their personalized voter mailer which has their assigned early voting site as well as their Election Day site. Each voter received a personalized ‘Fast Pass Tag’ card. This is not required but it’s something we hope will help allow for a quicker check-in and contactless check-in.”
The “Fast Pass Tag” that voters received in the mail is attached to two other cards which have Election Day polling location, election district and assembly district numbers. The Fast Pass Tag contains a barcode that will be scanned.
As images across the nation show long lines and many people trying to participate in early voting, Senior Advisor and General Counsel of DemocracyNYC Laura Wood says safety protocols are in place to keep voters from contracting COVID-19.
“For those who choose to vote in-person, voting safely largely reflects the core four – wear a face covering; keep your hands clean; try to keep 6 feet apart from others/avoid crowds; and, if you’re feeling sick, pick a different day to vote,” Wood said. “And this year that is easy, because you can avoid crowds by voting early.”
For Election Day Nov. 3, Diaz said procedures will remain the same as they have in previous years. She said the message the BOE wants to send to voters is how to vote safely.
“The BOE has taken many precautions to not only protect the voter but poll workers as well,”
said Diaz. “Each of the poll workers will be provided with masks. There will be masks available if a voter does not have one. We’ll have antibacterial wipes and spray at the poll site. Sneezeguards will protect the voter and poll worker. Floor decals will be placed to encourage social distancing.”
When it comes to voter intimidation and suppression, Diaz said anyone who feels they are being discouraged to cast their ballot should report it immediately. Site coordinators at polling sites will be on hand to take in any reports of voter intimidation. Voters can also call 1-866-VOTE-NYC and teams will be dispatched to any site having issues.
Registered voters in New York City do not need to show ID to vote, unless they did not provide identification with their registration. If ID is not provided by Election Day, a voter is still allowed to vote by affidavit ballot, but not using the poll site scanner.
As of this week, 25 million Americans have voted in this election. Early voting for New York City residents starts Oct. 24. By the time the nation reaches Election Day, the combination of early voting and the COVID-19 pandemic might make it a short night…or a long one depending on the results.
While citizens continue to be educated about and exercise their right to vote, others have engaged in actions around the country to suppress votes and silence voices with some voter intimidation thrown in for good measure.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota (CAIR-MN) and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota filed a lawsuit against Atlas Aegis, a private mercenary contractor, for voter intimidation. The complaints point to a public advertisement for armed security in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. There were also, allegedly, online job postings for security personnel, which Atlas Aegis chairperson Anthony Caudle confirmed to The Washington Post.
Caudle also threatened to send ex-special forces soldiers to polling places in Minnesota. None of this sat well with League of Women Voters of Minnesota Executive Director Michelle Witte.
“The kind of voter intimidation that this group has planned is exactly what the Voting Rights Act was written to protect against,” said Witte. “The ugly reality of racist voter intimidation tactics that civil rights leaders guarded against 55 years ago are alive and well today and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota will stand against any attempt to threaten those exercising their constitutional right to vote.
“Today we affirm our stand against this clear plan of voter intimidation and suppression by armed forces targeting communities of color and new Americans,” added CAIR-Minnesota Executive Director Jaylani Hussein. “We stand with our partner, the League of Women Voters of Minnesota, to take all legal steps to ensure that voters do not face intimidation of any kind as they go to the polls in what is perhaps the most important election in American history. Our democracy depends on the right to vote and this right must be maintained and protected.”
Courts around the country have been busy with lawsuits leading up Election Day.
On Monday, Oct. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an attempt by the Pennsylvania Republican Party to shorten the deadline for submitting mail-in ballots.
“Democratic leaders in Pennsylvania have worked tirelessly to make voting easier this year, and Republicans have tried to block those efforts at every opportunity,” said Democratic Campaign Committee Regional Press Secretary Pieter Brower. “Today’s ruling is a victory for every Pennsylvanian. State legislative races can be decided by just a handful of votes, which is why Republicans are trying so hard to suppress them.
Republican National Committee National Press Secretary Mandi Merritt painted a different picture of the result.
“We are disappointed that the court declined to confront the important issues raised in our motion,” Merritt stated. “The constitution delegates these issues to elected state legislatures rather than judges for a reason.”
On the other side, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a stay in Richardson v. Texas Secretary of State. The case denied voters the right to respond to any issues with their ballot within a day of its rejection due to unmatched signatures.
“To prevent voter disenfranchisement, mail ballots that are rejected due to a signature mismatch ought to have the opportunity to be cured,” stated Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas. “We call on Texas counties to commit to notifying voters in cases of signature mismatch as soon as possible before Election Day, and to fight for voters’ ballots to be counted—in court, if need be.”
Last week, a fiber optic cable on Route 10 in Virginia’s Chesterfield County was accidentally severed, which shut down the majority of the state’s online voter registration on its last day. Voters were granted an extension to file online. The week before that Florida’s voter registration system crashed on the last day to file. According to the officials from Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee’s office, the portal went down for a short period. Voters in that state won an extension to file online as well.
This week alone a few more incidents occurred that could be considered voter intimidation or outright sabotage.
Local firefighters in Baldwin Park, CA. reported that on Sunday, Oct. 18, someone purposely lit a newspaper on fire and threw it into a ballot box set up outside of a local public library destroying an estimated 60 to 100 votes. Baldwin Park Police Department officials said the incident is being investigated.
Tuesday, Oct. 20, in Miami-Dade County, at an early voting site, police officer Daniel Ubeda, tasked with protecting voters, wore a Trump 2020 face mask while on the job. Photos of him and the mask made its way around the internet, along with allegations of voter intimidation. The incident led the Miami Police Department to address the situation via social media.
“We are aware of the photograph being circulated of a Miami police officer wearing a political mask in uniform,” read the department’s Twitter statement. “This behavior is unacceptable, a violation of departmental policy and is being addressed immediately.”
It’s just one of many instances where voters of certain races and political affiliations are being intimidated when going to the polls.
That’s why, according to New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) Senior Staff Attorney Perry Grossman, voters need to have their proverbial ducks in order.
“Now is the time to make a voting plan and make sure you’re prepared to use one of your three ways to vote—absentee, early voting in-person, or Election Day voting. Early voting opens on Oct. 24 and continues through Nov. 1,” said Grossman to the AmNews. “The last day to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27 and absentee ballots need to be postmarked by Election Day. But whether you’re voting in person or absentee you should vote as early as possible.”
But while NYCLU’s focused on the city, other organizations are focusing on the country.
The Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) recently launched the “Black Justice is Our Justice” campaign to fight anti-Blackness and white supremacy. The groups hope to target Black immigrants and Black people disenfranchised by the criminal justice system to become more politically and civically engaged. The campaign also wants to provide people with the resources to equip themselves against voter suppression tactics.
“Black immigrants have always played an integral role in the fight for a fair and just society by uplifting the democratic principle that everyone, regardless of immigration status or past convictions, should have an equal opportunity to engage in civil and political life in the United States,” BAJI executive director Nana Gyamfi said in a statement. “Across the U.S., as Black communities are rising for justice, there is unprecedented recognition that anti-Blackness denies Black people their human rights and hard-fought civil rights and liberties.”