Welcome to Mental Health Association in New York State Inc.’s Voter Empowerment Project. This project seeks to empower those with lived experiences and the community in which they live in to understand their rights around voting. This includes assistance at the polls, early voting, rights for those convicted of crimes, and how to register to vote.
Why is this important?
Consider this: In 2019 and 2020 New York State has implemented two widely impactful laws and executive actions around voting. Firstly, New York State has now implemented an early voting system for the first time. Secondly, those who are on parole now have their voting rights restored automatically when they begin their parole. This project will engage with people through information on this webpage and in presentations.
These presentations will discuss changes around voting in New York State, information about how to register, and will center the presentation around those with lived experiences and the supports they can receive at the polls.
Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) & Impact on Voting in New York State
If an individual needs assistance registering to vote or assistance at the polls there are several options available to them.
Registering to Vote
Individuals with disabilities have the right to receive assistance from a person of their choosing to assist them with registration. The only restriction is that this person cannot be your employer or a union representative. This person can fill out the registration form for you with the information you provide. You are still required to sign the form confirming the veracity of the information provided.
Individuals with disabilities have the right to receive assistance from a person of their choosing to assist them with voting. The only restriction is that this person cannot be your employer or a union representative. This person can help them with the entire voting process. If you do not have someone who can assist you in the voting process you can have a poll worker help you. There are poll workers at every polling site trained to assist those who need assistance and do not have someone there to assist them.
Aside from designating someone to assist you in the voting process there are several others kinds of assistance available. Automark Ballot Marking Devices (BMD) are required at every voting site. The BMD helps people with disabilities vote privately and independently on a paper ballot. It has three assistive devices that can help voters with disabilities such as vision loss or limited hand dexterity cast their votes: a key pad with braille, a two-switch paddle, and a Sip-N-Puff device. Voters also can listen to the ballot being read through headphones, see the ballot enlarged on a screen, change the size of the screen text using the “Zoom” setting, and adjust the color contrast with the “Contrast” setting.
Voting & the Criminal Justice System
Voting on Parole
On April 18, 2018, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order which restored the right to vote following release for individuals who are on parole after incarceration for a felony. For individuals serving parole who would like to check their status of their right to vote, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has a Voting Restoration Pardon indicator. Only individuals with an ‘active’ parole status are eligible for restoration pardons. Consideration is automatic upon release from incarceration, so no application is required. Each person receiving a voting restoration pardon will receive a paper certification from their parole officer and a voter registration form. Everyone being pardoned will be required to re-register. After completion of parole, the right is automatically restored. Voting rights will be revoked if the individual returns to incarceration for violating parole or convicting a new felony.
Voting on Probation
It is crucial to know that individuals who are sentenced to probation never lose the right to vote. A 2005 survey found that 15 local offices stated people on probation are not eligible to register to vote, and an additional nine (9) were unsure of their eligibility. This left individuals in 24 out of the 64 NYS counties being falsely denied the opportunity to register to vote. If this occurs contact the New York State Board of Elections at firstname.lastname@example.org or (518) 474-6220.
Voting While Currently Incarcerated
Only individuals who are currently incarcerated with a felony conviction lose the right to vote. If an individual is incarcerated with solely misdemeanor conviction(s) then they still have the right to vote. If charged with a felony and currently in jail, the individual maintains the right to vote only if the sentence has been suspended. In these cases, an absentee ballot must be requested from the Board of Elections. An absentee ballot may be obtained by sending a letter to the county board. The letter must be received by the county board no earlier than 30 days and no later than 7 days prior to the election. The letter must contain the address where the individual is registered, an address where the ballot is to be sent, the reason for the request, and the signature of the voter. An application form will then be mailed to the provided address with the ballot, which should be completed and returned with ballot. If the individual is unable to receive an absentee ballot by mail, they have the right to designate someone to pick it up. Only that person designated on the application may pick up and deliver the ballot.
New York State County Board of Elections Information
Who can register to vote?
To qualify to register you must:
- be a US citizen
- be 18 years old
- a resident of this state and county at least 30 days before election
- not be in prison for a felony conviction
- not be adjudged mentally incompetent by a court
- not claim the right to vote elsewhere
When is the deadline to register to vote?
Check our Important Dates tab to see specific dates for each upcoming election.
What if I have a disability and need help filling out my ballot?
Individuals with disabilities have the right to receive assistance from a person of their choosing to assist them with registration and voting. The only restriction is that this person cannot be your employer or a union representative.
Do I have to pay to receive assistance to register and vote?
No. Individuals have the right to designate someone of their choosing to assist them throughout the entire registration and voting process.
What if I don’t have someone to assist me and I need assistance?
There are poll workers at every polling site trained to assist those who need assistance and do not have someone there to assist them.
What other kinds of assistance is there for me to vote at the polls?
Aside from designating someone to assist you in the voting process there are several others kinds of assistance available. Automark Ballot Marking Devices (BMD) are required at every voting site. See the Voting Assitance tab for more information.
Will my benefits and services be affected by my registering to vote?
No, there is no relationship between registering to vote and your eligibility for benefits and services.
How can I keep my right to vote when I have a guardian?
Your guardian does not get to decide if you can vote. In New York State being under a guardianship does not automatically deprive an individual of the right to register to vote or to vote in an election. A court order must be put in place that states an individual does not have the capacity to vote. Check with your guardian, lawyer, and/or judge if there are any questions regarding your status and ability to vote.
Do I need to show identification to vote?
You do not need an ID to vote, but you do need proof of identification when you register. If you do not have a DMV or social security number, you may provide a copy of a valid photo ID, a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document that shows your name and address. If the BOE is unable to confirm your identity when you register to vote then the first time you vote, and the first time only, you will need to provide one of these forms of proof of identification at your polling place.
Do I need to register for a political party?
You do not need to register for a political party to vote in the general election, but you do in order to vote in the primary.
How do I change my party affiliation?
If you would like to change your enrollment from one party to another, send a voter registration form with your new choice to your county board of elections. Your change of enrollment must be received no later than 25 days prior to the general election before the primary in which you wish to vote.
Are convicted felons allowed to vote?
Anyone who is currently incarcerated maintains the right to vote, unless convicted of a felony (as opposed to a misdemeanor or violation). Individuals convicted of a felony can receive a voting restoration pardon while on parole. You do not need to provide any documentation about your criminal record in order to register and vote.
How will an individual under community supervision be notified that he or she has received a pardon restoring his or her right to vote?
Once granted, parole officers will hand deliver voting restoration pardons to individuals under their supervision, along with a voter registration form and the location of the registration office. A person can also look up his or her name using the Parolee Lookup feature of the DOCCS website, and see if they have been granted a conditional voting pardon, which will be noted on the lookup.
I am currently homeless, can I register to vote?
Yes. Fill out a voter registration form and write a location where you can be found, such as “Bench on Central Park on 86th Street”, as the address where you live. You will be assigned a poll site based on this address. Write the address of a shelter, P.O. Box, or family member as the address where you receive mail. Your voter card will be sent to this address.
When do I need to re-register or update my registration?
You should re-register if you have any change to personal information, such as name or home address. If you move, you may want to re-register to vote in your new county. You may also want to re-register if you would like to change your party affiliation.
How can I find out where to vote?
You can look up your voter registration and find your polling place at the NYS Board of Elections website (see helpful links section) under Voter Lookup or contact your local board of elections (See NYS County BOE Contact Information tab).
Where do I vote if I’m not currently living “at home?”
- You can re-register in the county where you are residing and vote at that location
- You may qualify for absentee voting if you are unable to vote in your county on Election Day or during Early Voting. See below for how to request an Absentee Ballot.
Can I still vote if I’m going to be out of town during the election?
If you are absent from your county on Election Day then you are qualified to vote by Absentee Ballot. See below for how to request an Absentee Ballot.
How do I request an absentee ballot?
Applications for Absentee Ballots are available at your county board of elections or may also be downloaded from the board of elections website (see helpful links section). You may also request an Absentee Ballot by sending a letter to your county board of elections.
How do I change my name and address?
Complete a Voter Registration form with the new information and mail it to your board of elections.
I am a victim of domestic violence, how can I protect myself when I register to vote?
Victims of domestic violence can obtain an order of confidentiality by applying to the Supreme Court or the Family Court in their county. The order requires that your records remain separate and cannot be seen by anyone other than election officials. You may also have the ability to be excused from going to your polling place.
Will I get called to jury duty if I register to vote?
There are multiple documents used to summon individuals for jury duty. Individuals are randomly selected from lists of registered voters, DMV documents, NYS income tax filers, recipients of unemployment insurance or family assistance, and from volunteers. Registering to vote does not increase your likelihood of being selected.
How do I register if I am in the military or I am a US citizen living overseas?
You must complete a Federal Post Card Application and return it to your county board of elections. This application will register you (if not already registered) and will also serve as your absentee ballot application for 2 federal general election cycles. Applications are available from your Voting Assistance Officer on base, or you can visit either the Federal Voting Assistance Program Website for forms and information. On this application, you may state a preference as to how you would like to receive your ballot. You can choose mail, fax or email as a preferred method of transmission. Regardless of the method in which you receive your ballot, you must return your ballot to your local county board of elections by postal mail. You can utilize New York’s Military and Overseas Ballot Tracking Website to track when your ballot has been received by your local county board of elections.
How do I know if my registration was accepted?
You will receive a registration acknowledgment card in the mail from your local BOE. You can also check your registration status online at the NYS BOE Voter Lookup webpage.
Could my registration have expired?
There is no expiration date, but your voter status could be ‘inactive’ if you have not voted in the last two federal elections or if you moved and did not update your address. You can check your voter registration status online at the NYS BOE Voter Lookup page. Registered inactive voters should submit a new registration to their local BOE. If it is too late to file a new registration, inactive voters who still reside where they are registered can vote by affidavit ballot on Election Day at the correct voting site.
Can I take time off work in order to vote on Election Day?
Your employer is required by state law to give you time off to vote. You can get up to three paid hours at the beginning or end of your shift to cast your vote, as long as you notify your employer at least two business days before Election Day. Your employer must also post a conspicuous notice in the workplace regarding these requirements no less than 10 business days before every election.
You can also take advantage of Early Voting. This requires specific locations to be open later during the week, and for certain hours on the weekend during the 9 days prior to Election Day. You can find your designated Early Voting location by calling your local board of elections.
How long does it take to process my registration?
It can take several weeks. Most states send out voter registration cards within 5 to 7 weeks after receiving the registration. If you do not receive a registration card in the mail, contact your state election office to confirm you are registered.
What if there is a problem with my registration on Election Day?
If you are asked for identification and cannot provide it, or if there are any other problems with your registration, you can ask the poll worker for a provisional ballot (also called an “affidavit ballot”). A provisional ballot allows you to cast your vote pending verification of your eligibility
Is New York a closed primary state?
Most primaries in New York are closed, but state law contains a provision allowing parties to use a different method if they want. Currently, only the Independence Party chooses to allow unaffiliated voters to participate.
Is my voting site the same for early voting as it is for Election Day?
Not necessarily. Each county can determine the polling sites based on the parameters of the law. Some counties will let you vote at any of the polling sites open for early voting; others will assign you to a specific site. You can check your designated early voting location on the board of elections website (see helpful links section).
Do I still vote on Election Day if I voted early?
No, not if you vote early. It is illegal to vote multiple times in the same election.