Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday signed an executive order making temporary changes to election procedures in New York in an effort to help reduce the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, and person-to-person contact.
Under the new order, the candidate petitioning process will be suspended effective 5 p.m. March 17, for the June primaries for congressional, state senate, state assembly, and judicial races. The executive order also modifies the signature requirements for ballot access, meaning candidates will only need to collect 30 percent of the statutory threshold.
This election cycle, candidates running for Congress will also only need 375 signatures instead of 1,250. State Senate candidates will only need 300 signatures instead of 1,000. For Assembly, candidates will only need 150 signatures instead of 500.
Deadlines and procedures will also be changed in order to better allow New Yorkers to vote absentee for the Queens Borough President special election on March 24. The current deadline to register to vote absentee will now be extended to March 23, the day before the special election. Absentee votes must be postmarked or delivered in person up until the day of the election on March 24.
“Public health experts have been clear that one of the most common ways to communicate COVID-19 is through direct person to person contact, and we are doing everything in our immediate power to reduce unnecessary interactions,” Cuomo said in a the statement.
“This executive order modifies the election process in a way that both protects public health and ensures the democratic process remains healthy and strong regardless of the ongoing pandemic.”
Cuomo also reiterated on Twitter that the health and safety of the public was of extreme importance, saying, “The safety of NYers is our top priority,” and that signing the Executive Order would “ensure our electoral process goes on while safeguarding public health.”
The New York Governor’s announcement comes amid growing concerns about campaigning as the coronavirus continues to spread across the state. On Saturday, officials reported the first death in the state from the virus, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
The patient, who died at a hospital in the city late Friday, was described as an 82-year-old woman who also had emphysema, a lung condition that causes shortness of breath. Officials said she had an “underlying respiratory illness, emphysema, for which she had been hospitalized for previously,” before contracting the new coronavirus as well and passing away.
On March 15, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced that two Brooklyn-based members of the New York Assembly, Charles Barron and Ways and Means Committee Chair Helene Weinstein, have tested positive for the coronavirus.
More than 500 people have been affected by Coronavirus in New York, while nearly 20 percent, or 117 people, are hospitalized. However, Cuomo told reporters on Saturday that the numbers may be significantly higher.
“The more tests we take, the more that number will go up,” Cuomo said. “Nobody believes there are only 500 cases of coronavirus in New York today. We believe there are thousands of people who have coronavirus, maybe tens of thousands.”