ALBANY — New York election workers would have to start counting absentee ballots earlier under legislation that passed the state Senate Wednesday.
Lawmakers, including Sen. Mike Gianaris, say the state must prevent another election year like 2020, when delays, litigation and mistakes by election boards who faced a flood of absentee ballots led to days, weeks and in some instances months of confusion over election results in New York.
The winner of the race for central New York’s 22nd Congressional District wasn't declared until early February, when a state judge ruled that Republican Claudia Tenney defeated Democratic U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi by 109 votes. That ruling came after the judge spent three months reviewing ballot challenges and trying to fix a myriad of problems with vote tabulation.
Boards of elections would have to start counting absentee, military and special ballots on a rolling basis as soon as they're received under the new legislation.
Election workers would have four days to review ballots and place them into one of three categories: valid, invalid and “defective but curable.” The bill sets up rules for how election commissioners should handle valid ballots, and says ballots are presumed valid if commissioners are “split.”
New York would also have to audit ballot scanners within three days of the elections, and courts could no longer change the process for canvassing ballots.
The state would also do away with remaining rules that can lead to voters' ballots getting tossed for minor technical mistakes.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's office said the Democrat-led Assembly plans to pass the legislation.
New Yorkers could track their absentee ballots using a statewide web portal under another bill the Senate and Assembly passed Wednesday.
“Our state Senate has come a long way towards reforming New York’s election laws, but there is more to do,” said Gianaris, a Democrat. “These bills will dramatically reduce the long early voting lines we experienced last year and ensure we won’t have to wait weeks on end to discover who wins an election.”