New York Appellate Court Upholds Universal Mail-In Voting

Chase Smith
By Chase Smith
May 10, 2024New York
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New York Appellate Court Upholds Universal Mail-In Voting
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) speaks during a press conference in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on April 30, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

A New York State appellate court on Thursday upheld the constitutionality of the state’s universal Early Mail Voter Act, cementing the state’s move toward expanded universal mail-in voting.

The court’s ruling comes after a contentious legal battle led by appellants including Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), Nicholas Langworthy (R-N.Y.), and Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) against Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state’s Board of Elections.

The lawmakers joined several other GOP elected officials, voters, and the party’s state and national committees in the original suit seeking to overturn the law on the day it was signed into law by Ms. Hocul last year. A lower court ruled the law was constitutional in February, and Ms. Stefanik appealed the decision.

The appellants argued that the universal mail-in voting provisions of the act violated the New York Constitution, specifically targeting what they claimed was an improper expansion of absentee voting without a constitutional amendment.

The appellate court found that the state’s Legislature had the authority to expand voting methods, including mail-in voting, without needing a constitutional amendment.

“We conclude that universal mail-in voting does not violate article II of the NY Constitution and was properly implemented through legislative enactment,” the Court order stated. “We recognize that a proposed constitutional amendment to authorize no-excuse absentee voting was not ratified by the electorate at the November 2, 2021 election. Even so, that the Legislature, in first proposing the amendment in 2019, may have assumed that a constitutional amendment was necessary to implement universal mail-in voting does not make it so.”

The Act and Challenge

The New York Early Mail Voter Act, enacted in 2023 and effective as of Jan. 1, 2024, allows all registered voters to apply for early mail-in voting for any election in which they are eligible.

This law was introduced to enhance voter participation and streamline the voting process across the state, according to Democrats.

Key features of the act include a requirement for applications to be received by local Boards of Elections at least ten days before the election, confirmation of voter eligibility, and the provision of postage-paid return envelopes for ballots.

Under New York state’s constitution, absentee voting is accepted only in the event of illness, being out of the state for a definable reason, or military service overseas.

Republicans argued that the people of New York voted against expanding absentee voting when the proposed amendment “Authorizing No-Excuse Absentee Ballot Voting” was presented as a ballot initiative in 2021. It was rejected by 55 percent of voters.

RNC lawyers argued in briefs that allowing unrestricted early voting forces the GOP to spend additional time, money, and manpower to adjust to a new electoral scheme that greatly differs from the past in-person voting model.

“For the national organizations, that means fewer resources to fulfill their missions in other states,” wrote attorney Michael Hawrylchak a Jan. 26 brief on behalf of Ms. Stefanik. “Moreover, the Mail-Voting Law will impose substantial new financial burdens on the county election boards the commissioner plaintiffs oversee, because it requires them to provide postage-paid return envelopes along with mail-in ballot applications.”

Court’s Analysis and Decision

The court’s analysis focused on the interpretation of Article II of the New York Constitution, which outlines voter qualifications and the manner of voting.

The court’s opinion, written by Justice Michael Lynch, emphasized the historical evolution of absentee voting laws and the legislative authority granted by Article II, Section 7, which allows for voting “by ballot, or by such other method as may be prescribed by law.”

Justice Lynch’s opinion detailed that the original 1846 constitutional requirement for in-person voting was significantly altered over the years, culminating in the 1966 amendment that removed the explicit in-person voting mandate. This change, the court concluded, empowers the Legislature to prescribe alternative voting methods, including universal mail-in voting.

“The Legislature has broad plenary power to determine the manner of voting,” the opinion stated, underscoring their ruling that the act’s provisions are in line with the Constitution’s current framework and historical context.

The court further dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument that the act effectively created a new category of absentee voting requiring a constitutional amendment.

Implications and Reactions

The first test of the new law came in February in the U.S. House of Representatives 3rd Congressional District special election to fill the seat of ousted former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.0 in which Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) prevailed.

Ms. Stefanik’s request to halt early voting was denied just days before the special election. Nassau County Board of Elections early voting data showed that out of more than 57,000 ballots cast in Nassau County during the early voting period, 42 percent were Democrats, 34 percent were Republicans and 20 percent were unaffiliated with a major party.

The ruling has been hailed by proponents of expanded voting access as a significant victory for voter rights and electoral participation.

Opponents expressed disappointment, arguing that the decision disregards the voters’ previous rejection of a constitutional amendment for no-excuse absentee voting in 2021.

“On behalf of all New Yorkers concerned with New York Democrats’ illegal and unconstitutional assault on election integrity in New York State, today’s ruling by the Appellate Division is shameful and unconstitutional,” Ms. Stefanik said in light of the ruling Thursday. “The New York State Constitution couldn’t be clearer: If you would like to alter the legal absentee ballot process, it must be decided on by the voters through a constitutional amendment.”

Ms. Stefanik added: “Voters in New York had this option two years ago and overwhelmingly voted against it. Now New York Democrats are illegally jamming through an unconstitutional law that harms election integrity, all while our Far Left Democrat-run courts go right along with it. Democrats’ political weaponization of the courts must end, and we look forward to appealing this ruling to the highest court in our state, the Court of Appeals.”

Juliette Fairley contributed to this report. 

From The Epoch Times

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