Sunday thoughts:  Everything you need to know about absentee voting in New York in 2020


Throughout Onondaga County and most of New York state absentee ballot applications are hitting about 5 million voter’s mailboxes.  This is the first time in New York State electoral history that voters will be getting this type of outreach.  It is Governor Cuomo’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic and an attempt to make voting safer.  Voters have been mailed an application, a postage paid return envelope, and reasons for applying have expanded.

This is my third Sunday in a row I have spent time talking about absentee voting and voting by mail. Since March 23rd each week has brought new changes to our electoral system in New York as the Governor, legislature, and State Board of elections adapts to the ongoing health crisis. There have been executive orders, regulations, guidance, and clarifications each week. However with 36 days to go until the election it seems as if we finally have agreement on what the rules are for the June 23rd election in regards to absentee voting.

Here is what is happening with absentee voting in New York for the June elections:

Expanded reasons for voting absentee

As we have discussed in previous articles, New York requires an excuse for voting by absentee.  The six excuses generally allowed are Out of County on Election Day, Permanent illness or disability, Temporary Illness or disability, incarceration, primary care for someone who is ill or disabled, patient or employee of a Veteran’s Health Administration Hospital.  Governor Cuomo has clarified for the June 23rd elections that fear of COVID-19 is acceptable under the temporary illness excuse.  This opens up absentees to any voter who wants one this election.  It should be noted that this is not acceptable, as of now, for the November elections though certainly there could be further executive orders and legislation between now and then.

Multiple ways to apply

Traditionally voters had to mail, fax, or apply for an absentee ballot in person at a Board of Elections.  These options are still available, however Governor Cuomo by executive order has expanded the options for the June primary.  You can now apply online by email or electronic forms or by phone. Onondaga County voters can visit or call 315-435-VOTE.  In addition to those options applications with postage paid return envelopes are being mailed to all eligible voters and hitting mailboxes now.  Don’t wait to apply as we still have to mail a ballot to you. Expanded options are only good for the June primary and you cannot apply for the November election using those options. We have already received record absentee requests, and that is before the mass mailing hitting this week.  Do not wait, apply today.  Applications must be postmarked on June 16th or before to guarantee a BOE will mail the ballot to you.

Permanent and other requests still allowed for June and November

You can still apply for an absentee for the November election under the traditional excuses, but you cannot make that application by phone, email, or electronic method.  If you want to change your status to Permanent Illness or disability you can do so by taking advantage of the absentee mailer that is going out and returning it and you will always receive an absentee ballot for every election.  If you are going to be out of the county or have a temporary illness or other statutorily valid reason you can do but must mail in the application on your own or apply in person.  

Absentee Ballots will be mailed upon request, must be postmarked by June 22nd.

Upon receiving an application the Board of Election will process and mail out a ballot to the address the voter requests, usually within one day.  It is important you apply as soon as possible as Boards are likely to face an unprecedented amount of requests.  Once you get your ballot fill it out and return it as soon as possible. Ballots must be postmarked by June 22nd to be valid.  If you are ready to vote there is no need to delay as you can request another ballot or vote in person if you change your mind closer to Election Day.  

You may have been mailed multiple absentee ballots due to the combining of Elections

The combining of elections for Democrats may cause you to have been mailed multiple ballots.  If you applied for an absentee before March 23rd you may have already received a Presidential Absentee Ballot. This election was postponed and now is being held concurrently with the Local (Congressional & City Court) primaries.  All voters who applied for the original April 28th primary will now receive an absentee ballot envelope with both Presidential and local ballots in it. This takes the place of your original ballot, fill them out and return them.  (If an original ballot is returned and not replaces it will count for the Presidential Election only).  City of Syracuse voters who already received an absentee ballot may be issued another one this week as a candidate that was removed from the ballot has been restored.  If you already submitted a ballot that will be counted unless you submit a new ballot and the newer ballot will then count. Voters in the NY 50 Senate district may have received a Special Election ballot before March 23rd.  That ballot is now null and void as that election has been cancelled.

There still will be In Person Voting options

In Onondaga County we plan to open 6 in person Early Voting sites and over 150 in person Election Day sites.  The Early Voting sites are designed to allow any voter from any part of the county to be able to vote when they show up that day.  We have Early Voting sites in the North and south side of the City of Syracuse as well as North, South, East, and West areas of the county.  Hours of Early Voting are 10-3 on weekends and either 106 or 12-8 on weekdays. On Election Day our polling sites will be open from 6am to 9pm. We are working with our county health department to provide PPE and sanitizing equipment to all sites and are dedicated to maintaining social distancing and a safe as possible voting environment.  Visit to get information on the Early Voting center nearest you and your polling location.

Absentee Ballots won’t be counted until 7-10 days after Election Day

It is important to remember that with more absentee ballots being processed, the less likely we will have a definitive winner on Election Night.  Because a voter can change their mind and decide to vote in person and we have until 7 days after Election Day to receive a ballot Boards of Elections can’t even open absentee ballots until after voter history is processed and enough time is given to receive absentee ballots turned in on Election Day or being delivered by US mail.  These means absentee ballot openings are usually not until 7-10 days after Election Day. Absentee ballot opening are supervised by the candidates (if they wish) and held every year regardless of proximity of results.  They are then combined with our Election Day results and make up our certification of an Election done 14-20 days after Election Day.  This certification is the official declaration of a winner and nothing is official until the results are signed off on both Elections Commissioners.

Finally it is important that you as a voter help us get proper information out to your friends and family.  This is one of the more confusing elections due to the changing dates and rules I have ever administered.  Make sure you only get information from your Board of Election sources and share only accurate information.  As always in Onondaga County you can find reliable information at or by calling our office at 315-435-VOTE.

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