Gotham Gazette

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Voting Absentee is Complicated; How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts

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Absentee voting is complicatd (image via @kimmosc)

New Yorkers worried about going to the polls to vote in this month’s party primary elections don't have to, thanks to a gubernatorial executive order expanding the definition of those eligible to vote absentee. 

Amid the ongoing risk of spreading COVID-19, Governor Cuomo made the changes in April, giving voters across the state the option to vote via mail-in absentee ballot in addition to traditional in-person voting on primary day, June 23, or one of nine days of early voting, set for June 13-21.

Depending on location and party affiliation, there are primaries, mostly in the Democratic Party, for president and the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as State Senate and Assembly, Queens Borough President, City Council District 37 in Brooklyn, and other races.

Voters can find out about primary contests that apply to where they live and both their early voting and primary day poll site(s) via the Board of Elections’ online poll site locator.

But many New Yorkers will take advantage of the expanded right to absentee ballot, which is being widely encouraged as New Yorkers continue to battle COVID-19. Cuomo’s order brings the coronavirus and the risk of contracting it under the "temporary illness[es]" that qualify a voter for using an absentee ballot. But absentee voting is somewhat complicated and there is important information New Yorkers need to do it right.

Cuomo was constrained by the state constitution, which does not allow him to order a ballot simply be mailed to all eligible voters. The most he could do was expand the eligibility to all and to order that absentee ballot applications be sent out to all eligible voters.

For those in New York City, there are several tricky steps involved in the process.

Getting an Absentee Ballot
All registered voters should receive an absentee ballot application by mail automatically, per the governor's order. But if a voter does not receive one -- or to be more sure to get one --, there are other ways to apply for an absentee ballot with the New York City Board of Elections, the simplest being to apply via the board's website.

Registered voters can also email or fax applications to the board (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 212-487-5349), mail one to a local borough office, or call the BOE's hotline: 1-866-VOTE-NYC.

The deadline to apply for a ballot in person is June 22, but the other options require applications to be submitted by June 16.

If all goes well, absentee ballot applications arrive with a prepaid return envelope.

All applications ask voters to fill out their information (Name, Borough, Zip Code, and Date of Birth) "exactly as it appears" in the voter record. Applicants must select the reason for applying "in good faith" from a list that includes the expanded Temporary Illness category, as well as being absent from the county on election day, having a permanent disability, or having to care for someone who does. (The New York City BOE has a note on its site informing voters that COVID-19 is covered under Temporary Illness.)

Being in jail or prison also qualifies as a valid reason for voting absentee, as is being a patient or resident in a Veterans Health Administration hospital.

Upon submitting an application online with the city BOE, voters are notified that: "Applications will be processed in the order that they are received. You do not need to take any further action. Ballots will be mailed beginning the 2nd week of May." The website says that voters who do not have primaries to vote in will not receive a ballot even if they submit an application, but that the BOE will make efforts to notify applicants when this is the case.

When applying for a ballot by mail, the same information is required on the paper form, except the name and address as it appears in the BOE's voter rolls arrives pre-printed. Voters must still select a reason for requesting an absentee ballot and where they want to receive it. On the paper form, voters must provide a signature and date.

Casting the Absentee Ballot
Absentee ballots come with one ballot and two envelopes that must be used.

Voters should confirm the ballot is indeed theirs when it arrives and carefully review all of the races on the ballot, filling it out where appropriate and desired.

One envelope is a prepaid envelope addressed to the appropriate local board of elections borough office. After completing the ballot, New York City voters must seal it into the other envelope, which is smaller, making sure to sign and date the back, then put it in the larger envelope that’s already addressed to the BOE.

Last week, a federal court approved an agreement between state elections administrators and disability advocates allowing local elections boards to email absentee ballots that can be filled out and signed electronically, printed, and mailed (not emailed) back. The advocates say the provision, which is in addition to absentee ballots received by mail, will expand access to registered voters with difficulty writing by hand, though it still presents the challenges of printing and mailing.

Voters are given the option to receive the ballot at a mailing address of their choice, or to pick it up in person at the BOE office. Those seeking an emailed ballot under the new agreement must apply through the State Board of Elections, after which local boards of election provide a prepaid envelope to be used in mailing or returning in person the ballot application to the local board, according to a press release issued by the coalition of disability rights advocates.

Ballots can be postmarked on the day before primary day and received within seven days of the election in order to be counted. With primary day June 23, this means postmarked by or on June 22 and received by or on June 30.

Voters can also hand deliver absentee ballots to their local borough BOE office Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Voters wishing to cast their ballot the old-fashioned way -- in-person at a poll site -- still have that option. The June primaries will be the second major election in New York City to have early voting, after its inaugural run in the general election last November. Seventy-nine assigned early voting locations will be opened across the five boroughs over nine days before the election beginning June 13 and ending June 21.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Promises Faster NYPD Discipline While Past Reform Pledges Remain Delayed

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Mayor de Blasio with Police Commissioner Shea & other NYPD officials (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

As Mayor Bill de Blasio struggles with the protests against police brutality and racism that have gripped New York City over the past few days, he has promised that NYPD officers will be swiftly disciplined for any misconduct in their response to protesters and that larger structural changes to police accountability are on the way. But the NYPD has been slow to reform its opaque internal disciplinary processes over the years, and has even missed self-imposed deadlines to implement the recommendations issued well more than a year ago by an independent review panel.

“I've had this conversation with the Commissioner. If an officer is under investigation, those investigations from now on are going to go faster. We're going to have faster results,” de Blasio said at his daily press briefing on Wednesday, when he was asked about several incidents of apparent police misconduct and excessive force during protests over the last few days, several of which were caught on video. As of Sunday, according to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, the department was investigating at least six such incidents. Since then, there have been additional incidents, including some where officers harassed reporters and essential workers to enforce a citywide curfew that first went into effect on Monday night.

De Blasio, after initially defending the department, has been walking the thin line between critiquing and commending the police. He has also repeatedly cited improvements in the department’s disciplinary practices and the reforms his administration has carried out. “So that work has gone on for six-and-a-half years. It's going to go a lot further in the next year-and-a-half,” he said Wednesday. De Blasio said he wanted to “immediately” see the repeal of Section 50-a of the state civil rights law, which shields police disciplinary records from public disclosure. “I want to see a faster disciplinary process at the NYPD, I believe we can achieve that and I'll provide whatever resources are needed for that,” he added.

The NYPD, meanwhile, has dragged its feet implementing reforms that were recommended last year by an independent blue ribbon commission convened by then-Commissioner James O’Neill. The commission made 13 recommendations, which were accepted by O’Neill in February 2019. Five of the recommendations were implemented within 60 days, but others have stalled, and Commissioner Shea struggled to discuss the specifics when asked about them by a reporter at the mayor’s Wednesday briefing.

“The independent panel found an effective and fair system and by adopting all of its recommendations, we are improving it every day in every way,” said NYPD Assistant Chief Matthew Pontillo, in a statement. “The recommendations the NYPD has adopted will make the system the strongest and most transparent it can be, within the bounds of state law. It will also build upon a cadre of recent reforms, including the deployment of body-worn cameras, the dissemination of videos from those cameras and the annual publication of data on discipline, among other things.”

Among the changes implemented within 60 days were the department’s support for amending, not repealing, 50-a; preventing an expansion in the scope of 50-a; enhanced public reporting on the discipline system; publishing trial room calendars for disciplinary proceedings; and greater reporting of when a disciplinary action is different from what is recommended by an oversight body.

Some reforms have since been implemented. The department has been producing memos since the Spring of last year documenting when a disciplinary action varied from a recommendation, but those memos cannot be publicly released because of 50-a. A new policy of enforcement against officers who make false statements became effective on April 1 this year, though it was meant to be in place by the summer of 2019.

Other key recommendations have yet to be put into effect, though NYPD officials have said they will be implemented soon. For instance, the NYPD had said a new executive-level civilian liaison would be appointed by the Fall of 2019, but has not yet been chosen. According to an NYPD spokesperson, 34 people applied for the position and the appointment is imminent.

The department is also developing a new “disciplinary matrix” that would standardize disciplinary action for cases of misconduct by officers. The NYPD chose to create the matrix on its own instead of having to do so under legislation that had been proposed in the City Council. The disciplinary matrix, the NYPD spokesperson noted, “is expected to be a living document, subject to ongoing evolution and improvement.”

The department also promised to speed up lower level disciplinary proceedings by hiring more attorneys, but that has not happened yet because the city budget remains undecided.

Finally, the independent panel recommended that the NYPD allow an outside body to audit its new disciplinary system. The department is working with the Commission to Combat Police Corruption on that audit, the first of which will happen by the end of the year, the spokesperson said.

“I think our biggest obstacle here is transparency and making sure that we communicate to the public what is going on, what is going on with investigations,” Shea said on Wednesday. “We might not always see exactly eye to eye, but I think that most of the difficulties that we engage in can be cleared up with clear communication and explaining the why.”

He said the blue ribbon panel’s recommendations were “overwhelmingly, positively received,” and many put into effect. “Things such as transparency, things such as a uniform discipline system to make sure that there's no inequities, and I believe we've posted some of that. So, we're moving towards it.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez on Prosecuting, Protests and Police Misconduct

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Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

June 03, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez on Prosecuting Protests and Police Misconduct

eg inset 150Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez joined the show to discuss how his office is monitoring unrest in New York City, handling charges against individuals arrested for various alleged crimes during protests against police brutality as well as some of the attacks on police officers and looting that has occurred recently, and how his office is also holding police officers accountable.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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