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Biaggi, Dinowitz work to save voting during coronavirus pandemic

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Just about everything in the news right now is centered around the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But local lawmakers like state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz are still thinking about everything else we'll have to worry about — like the upcoming elections.

Biaggi has introduced a bill that would expand absentee balloting for anyone who is concerned about a public health risk, and are concerned that either they will be exposed to that risk, or others might be exposed because of them.

The bill, introduced March 9, already has more than a half-dozen cosponsors, including South Bronx Democrat Luis Sepulveda.

Right now, New York's laws only allow someone to vote absentee if they are going to be absent from their county of residence — or the city — on the day of election, or are unable to appear at the polling place because of illness, physical disability, or caretaking responsibilities for someone who is ill or disabled, according to a sponsor memo attached to the bill. 

Other qualifications for an absentee ballot include being a resident or patient at a veteran health administration hospital, or currently being held in jail. 

"These restrictive criteria do not accommodate people who are concerned about the risk voting in-person would pose to their own or other's health," according to the sponsor memo.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has plans for his own legislation, which not only includes the expanded absentee balloting rules Biaggi proposes, but goes some additional steps, including moving the April primary to June, and removing any presidential candidates who have already ended their campaigns by that point.

"While our health experts are doing everything they can to prepare for and prevent the spread of coronavirus in New York state, we must ensure that our democratic processes are not negatively impacted," Dinowitz said, in a release. "The 2020 presidential election is the most significant in our lifetimes, maybe even in American history, and no New Yorker should be disenfranchised from casting their ballot out of fear for their health or confusion about how the process works."

By simplifying the ballot, Dinowitz said he hopes to alleviate confusion for voters, but also to make it easier to elect the delegates members of each party will send to their national conventions. It also would shorten ballots significantly. 

Biaggi's bill is currently on the slate for the senate's elections committee, while Dinowitz's bill is still making the rounds the Assembly looking for not only a sponsor, but a senate companion bill.

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