New York State will allow most voters to cast their ballots by mail in the November general election, joining a growing list of states that have expanded mail-in voting to address the potential spread of the coronavirus at polling places.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, signed a bill on Thursday allowing voters to request an absentee ballot if they cannot show up at a polling location because of the risk of contracting or spreading an illness, effectively permitting the state’s more than 12 million registered voters to vote by mail.
But with only 10 weeks until Election Day, the challenges of administering an election predominantly by mail will be especially pronounced in New York, following the state’s uneven handling of its primary just two months ago.
Nearly 40 percent of voters cast mail-in ballots in the state’s June 23 primary, compared with as little as 4 percent in previous elections, overwhelming election officials and resulting in a weekslong delay for results in many races.
Election officials are anticipating more than five million absentee ballots in the Nov. 3 presidential election, or four times the total number of mail-in ballots received in the June primary, raising the specter that final tallies will not be known for weeks.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to think you’ll have a quick count this November,” Peter S. Kosinski, co-chairman of the New York State Board of Elections, warned during a state legislative hearing last week.
To ease the blow of an influx of mail-in ballots, officials are encouraging voters to cast their ballots in person at early polling sites, which open statewide on Oct. 24.
Until a wave of changes approved in 2019, New York had been behind other states in adopting measures like early voting, which was underutilized during the June primary. More than 30 states allow voters to mail in their ballots for any reason.
Absentee ballots will not be mailed automatically to voters in New York, as will be the case in at least nine other states, including New Jersey and California. Instead, voters in New York will have to request a mail-in ballot online, over the phone, in person or by mail.
Voters could immediately apply for a mail-in ballot. The deadline to apply by mail is Oct. 27, although officials are urging voters not to wait until the last minute. Ballots need to be postmarked by Election Day.
The move in New York comes in the face of President Trump’s repeated attempts to undermine vote-by-mail, which he has falsely disparaged as rife with fraud, and amid mounting anxiety over the Postal Service’s ability to handle large numbers of ballots.
Election officials in New York are encouraging voters to apply for a ballot online, rather than by mail, to expedite the process of mailing ballots to voters, as New York City and Erie County did in June. The state’s Board of Elections is expected to unveil an online portal by the end of the month.
To diminish the reliance on the Postal Service, some state lawmakers have proposed scattering secure drop boxes across the state where voters can drop their ballots and have election officials directly collect them — an idea borrowed from other states, but which Mr. Trump’s campaign has forcefully opposed.
Some New York State election officials have argued that drop boxes could be redundant since voters already have the option of dropping off their mail-in ballots at early voting sites and at polling places on Election Day. Nonetheless, Mr. Cuomo appeared receptive to the idea this week.