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Voting Rights & Poll Worker Opportunities

By Katie Helde, CSJ Chair of Community Outreach


Challenges to Voting Rights

Voting rights are axiomatic to a democratic society, and yet, our legislators and election officials have obstructed voting rights again and again, from the early days of the American colonies, to the Jim Crow era, through today.[1] We have seen poll taxes, polling place closures, and unreasonable voter identification rules disproportionately target people of color.[2] As members of the legal community and of a social justice coalition, our conscious calls us to support each other in the ongoing fight for voting rights.


For those readers who plan to vote absentee by mail in the 2020 presidential election, please note that there are specific mail-in ballot instructions that voters must follow. An incorrectly completed mail-in ballot can be thrown out or purged from the rolls. According to investigative journalist Greg Palast, conducting a seven-year-study in collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, that state has increasingly purged voters from their roles. Georgia election officials have done so for the sole reason that any given voter was not sufficiently active in recent local elections and did not respond to a postcard about their voting activities (which they may or may not have actually received).[3] In a virtual panel hosted by the National Lawyers’ Guild on August 14, 2020, Defending Voting Rights in 2020, Greg Palast reported that according to his research, some twenty-two percent of mail-in ballots do not get counted at all, while ten percent of mail-in ballots that are seen get rejected. Such claims of vote purging become especially concerning now, as mail-in voting is expands some seven hundred percent in the 2020 presidential election.[4]


Voting Instructions for 2020 New York Absentee Voters:


Copied and pasted here are the mail-in ballot procedures from the New York Election website[5] (bold lettering added for emphasis).

"How to Cast an Absentee Ballot

  • Once your receive the ballot, mark the ballot according to your choices for each office following the instructions on the ballot

  • Once you have completed marking your ballot fold it up and place it in the Security Envelope. (This envelope will have a place for your signature.)

  • Sign and date the outside of the Security Envelope.

  • Seal the Security Envelope.

  • Place the Security Envelope in the Return Envelope. (This envelope will have the return address of your county Board of Elections on the outside and should have a logo that reads, “Official Election Mail”)

  • Seal the Return Envelope.

  • You may return the ballot in any of the following ways:

  1. Put it in the mail ensuring it receives a postmark no later than November 3rd.

  2. Bringing it to the County Board of Elections Office no later than November 3rd by 9pm.

  3. Bringing it to an early voting poll site between October 24th and November 1st

  4. Bringing it to a poll site on November 3rd by 9pm."


How Can You Protect Your Vote?


In New York, early voting starts on October 24. If you feel comfortable masking up and voting in person, you can avoid the risks of mail-in-ballot purges. Of course, if voting in person, you must still read your ballot carefully, but in-person ballots lack many of the confusing instructions of mail-in-ballots.


If you do not feel comfortable voting in person, you may apply for a mail-in-ballot at https://www.elections.ny.gov/votingabsentee.html. If you receive an erroneous mail-in ballot, which might lack an interior envelope, misspell your name, or show two different names on the documentation, you may email apply4absentee@boe.com or call 1-866-VOTE-NYC. If you do cast a mail-in absentee ballot, please be careful to follow instructions and consider mailing it at least two weeks before the election, by October 20th, to ensure that it gets counted by Election Day on November 3rd 2020.


If this will be your first time voting in New York, and you vote in person, you might be asked to show ID. Bringing ID and proof of residence, just in case, can better ensure casting a regular ballot rather than an affidavit ballot. If you are domiciled in a state other than New York and plan to vote absentee for that state, please refer to that state's board of elections website. Either way, be careful with your mail-in-ballot. Follow instructions carefully. When in doubt, please refer to the Board of Elections website.


Note About The Working Families Party of New York


The Working Families Party of New York (WFP) represents a third party focused on empowering marginalized and lower-income communities. Now, the WFP needs 130,000 people to vote on its line in order to retain a spot on the New York ballot. The WFP has endorsed Vice President Biden, and voting for him via the WFP line will count as a vote for Mr. Biden. The Coalition for Social Justice is not endorsing a specific candidate or political party. Rather, we wish to make this note for those New Yorkers who want a progressive, social-justice-oriented party to retain its place on the ballot and an active political voice.


You May Sign Up to Become an Election Day Poll Worker


To work as an Election Day poll worker in New York City, you may go to

https://www.elections.ny.gov/BecomePollworker.html which has a link to fill out an application at https://nyc.electiondayworker.com. My application is now being processed. If my application goes through and my polling place needs me, I will work that day as a poll worker. In my application, I noted that I know American Sign Language. If you know a language other than English and are available to provide interpretation in that language, please note that.


Mutual Support


As mentioned in the Coalition for Social Justice’s first General Body Meeting, the Coalition for Social Justice will be hosting a Post-Election-Night debrief on November 4th 2020. Due to the nature of this pandemic-era election, tallies will likely be ongoing, and results will likely be contested. The Post-Election-Night debrief can serve as check-in to see how we are feeling about the state of the election.


Many of us are concerned about voter suppression and voter purging in this country, which disproportionally target people of color. Voter suppression is not new, but recent closures of polling places and the strict rules of mail-in-ballots might be less obvious than the voter suppressions of the Jim Crow era. Here is to remaining aware of these issues. Feel free to post any thoughts or questions about voting. Here is to supporting each other and upholding our fundamental right to vote.

With peace and love and solidarity,

Katie Helde

[1] Frances L. Edwards & Grayson Bennett Thomson, The Legal Creation of Raced Space: The Subtle and Ongoing Discrimination Created through Jim Crow Laws, 12 BERKELEY J. AFR. AM. L. & POL'y 145 (2010). (writing that violating Jim Crow laws and “crossing racial lines carried with it, for the most part, negative repercussions through fines and/or imprisonment”) (citing Pendleton, S.C. Ordinance § 1. (Oct. 3, 1913). [2] Id. [3] Greg Palast and the Palast Investigative Fund, George Voter Roll Purge Errors, Report for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (2020), Accessed at https://www.acluga.org/sites/default/files/georgia_voter_roll_purge_errors_report.pdf [4] Justin Levitt, BRENNAN CTR. FOR JUSTICE AT NYU SCI. OF LAW, The Truth About Voter Fraud (2007), available at http://www.truthaboutfraud.org/pdf/ TruthAboutVoterFraud.pdf [5] Accessed at https://www.elections.ny.gov/votingabsentee.html


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