Normally in July of an election year, state lawmakers are out working for votes.
But in this unusual time of the covid crisis, they need to be working for voters.
The Legislature will return to its job of passing bills next week facing a potential election disaster in November.
There were only scattered problems with the mail-in voting for school votes and party primaries last month. But that was with a relatively small voter sample.
Come November, with the president, state Legislature and House of Representatives on the ballot, problems that seemed small and solvable in June could explode exponentially.
Lawmakers need to ensure that the election goes off smoothly, that all voters who want to vote can do so, that ballots are counted accurately and quickly, and that county and state Boards of Election have the resources they need to do their job effectively.
A number of bills will help them achieve that goal.
First, lawmakers need to put into law a recently expired executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that allows all voters to vote by absentee ballot.
A number of proposed bills, including S8015 and A10169, would authorize absentee balloting statewide by expanding the types of reasons people could request absentee ballots — including fear of catching coronavirus by voting in person.
Other legislation (A10744/S8368) is designed to ensure that votes can’t be randomly disqualified due to minor issues, such as stray marks or extraneous writing on a ballot, when it’s clear who the voter intended to vote for.
Another bill (10746/S8369) would prevent boards from disqualifying ballots that are partially sealed with tape or other methods.
Another potential problem with the election will be ensuring that ballots arrive by mail on time and that any ballots sent after the deadline are not counted.
So voting rights advocates such as Let NY Vote are pushing for the state to require the Postal Service to use Intelligent Mail, a program that uses a single bar code to allow mail to be tracked more accurately.
Other legislation would require ballots to come with pre-paid return postage, expand opportunities to register to vote, give voters an opportunity to explain their ballot when it’s been rejected, and boost the number of early voting sites in each county.
With only 109 days left until the election, lawmakers need to act quickly to ensure the rules support voters and that the state and counties have enough time and resources to distribute ballots and make sure every resident who wants to vote has the ability to do so.
Of all the actions lawmakers need to take when they return to session, this should be at the very top of their list.