ALBANY – New York’s enhanced non-voting rules to remain in force less than one week before election day, an appeals court ruled.
A panel of appeals tribunals from five judges upheld the state’s postal voting laws on Tuesday, with a ruling saying that changing the system while voting was already in progress would be “extremely disruptive.”
The decision overturned a lower court ruling that sided with Republican and Conservative state parties that have sued to block early verification of absentee ballots and a law that allows New Yorkers to vote by mail if they are concerned about contracting COVID.
“In our opinion, granting petitioners the desired concession during the ongoing elections would be extremely destructive and deeply destabilizing and harmful to candidates, voters and state and local electoral commissions,” says the ruler.
Conservative critics have sued the law allowing anyone to vote absent if they are concerned about catching or spreading an infectious disease such as coronavirus, as well as a separate statute requiring electoral officials to process and prepare ballots before election day.
Democrats and electoral rights groups celebrated their victory in the 11th hour.
“We applaud this decision and, as Democrats, we steadfastly defend ourselves against any attempt to overturn free and fair elections, and will make sure that every voter is heard this year and every year,” State Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs said. in a statement.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling would protect “access to polls for vulnerable New Yorkers.”
“This unfounded process would only serve to sow chaos and confusion, undermining public confidence in our electoral system,” she added.
The Republican lawsuit argued that the recently passed law speeding up canvassing in the absence of voters is unconstitutional, as it could hamper judicial scrutiny of problematic ballots.
Saratoga County Supreme Court Justice Dianne Freestone agreed last month in her decision and also ruled against another recent law allowing voters who were afraid of getting sick to send out ballot papers.
The decision was suspended pending appeal, wreaking havoc across the state as Republican election commissioners refused to undertake to process absentee ballots.
According to the state Electoral Commission, more than 550,000 absent ballots have been mailed to voters, and approximately 188,000 have already been returned.
The deadline for submitting a request for a vote absent before the general election on November 8 has passed. However, the voter can still apply to vote not in person at local electoral offices until November 7.
In oral appearances before the appeals court on Tuesday, Republican plaintiffs’ lawyers told the panel that the lower court’s ruling should remain in force.
“We have a statute that is purposeful. Sacrifice accuracy; sacrifices the truth, ”said attorney John Ciampoli to the judges.
Attorney General Letitia James, who issued a letter last week urging electoral officials to review ballots during the call, praised Tuesday’s decision.
“We should take all possible steps to empower voters and make it easier for New Yorkers to access the polls,” she said in a statement. “I was proud to defend New York’s out-of-vote reform, and I am pleased with the decision to uphold these common-sense electoral integrity initiatives.”
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