This Nov. 3 will mark an Election Day like no other. While some Americans will flock to the polls armed with face masks and hand sanitizer, many others will remain at home having already cast their vote by mail.
The steps on how to safely vote amid a pandemic might be confusing for even the most weathered voters. For Stony Brook University students, the Center for Civic Justice can provide some of those answers.
“Over the past several months we have supported thousands of students on how to vote, whether it be here on campus or fully remote in another state,” Steven Adelson, coordinator of the Center for Civic Justice, said.
Adelson encouraged every student to “have a plan B” and request an absentee ballot even if they are planning to vote in-person. He said that since June, the Center for Civic Justice has helped 3,484 students register to vote and of those, 80% requested an absentee ballot.
“We want to stress that voting by mail and voting by absentee ballot is just as safe and secure as voting in person and there is no evidence of any increase in fraud,” Adelson said.
Some, including the president, have pointed to the potential for voter fraud, causing some Americans to stray away from voting via mail-in ballot. These concerns have been mostly debunked by experts and news outlets. According to the Associated Press, in past elections, the five states that routinely sent ballots to voters without absentee requests have experienced no major cases of fraud or difficulty counting votes. According to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice in 2017, the risk of ballot fraud was ranked at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies in past elections.
New York is not among the states that automatically send out ballots. To vote by mail, New Yorkers must request an absentee ballot. Students can contact the Center for Civic Justice for assistance or visit the NYS Board of Elections online portal to request a ballot no later than Oct. 27. After that deadline, voters can get a ballot in-person at their County Board of Elections until Nov. 2.
When filling out the absentee ballot, it’s important to follow the instructions carefully. Voters are required to sign and date the outside of the provided security envelope. Students can either mail the completed ballot back or deliver it in-person to their County Board of Elections office. If mailed, the ballot must be postmarked no later than Election Day.
For students voting on West Campus on Nov. 3, the polling station will be located in the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center and will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The New York Times voting guide recommends going at off-peak times like mid- to late morning or mid-afternoon in order to avoid long lines.
Adelson said that the number of Stony Brook students voting is growing “astronomically,” and since 2017, there has been an over 700% increase in voter turnout for local elections on campus.
“I believe it’s because students are realizing their vote has the ability to make a difference at all levels of government, from the president of the United States all the way down to your county clerk,” Adelson said.
Valerie Cartright is a Democrat currently serving her third term as councilwoman for the Town of Brookhaven and a candidate this year for New York State’s Supreme Court. She said that over her entire lifetime, she has never seen an election so controversial or polarized.
“This election is critical,” Cartright said, “It is important for everyone to exercise their right to vote, especially college students who are the future of our country.”
Cartright also supports early voting, and said absentee ballots are a “great reliable option.”
For students who want to avoid the crowds on Election Day but are also wary about voting by mail, early in-person voting is available at various locations in Suffolk County from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1.
In the Town of Brookhaven, early voting takes place at the Brookhaven Town Hall. To see a complete list of early voting locations in Suffolk County, visit the Suffolk Board of Elections website.
Ana Snyder, a sophomore biology major, is one of many Stony Brook students who feel it’s important to vote.
“We are currently in a harsh political climate from Black Lives Matter to the environment and it feels like we are approaching the cusp,” she said. “Change needs to happen now and it is up to us.”
This will be Snyder’s first time voting in a presidential election. She has decided to cast her ballot in-person on campus but she sees no issue with voting by mail either.
“I think it’s a great option to participate in the election while staying safe,” she said.
Snyder is not the only Stony Brook student to think the 2020 election has high stakes. Rishi Sohi, a graduate biomedical engineering student, will be voting from his home in Nassau County.
“The outcome of this election will affect me as a graduate student trying to get into the workforce next year,” he said.
Sohi said he would not normally have concerns about voting by mail, but this year he does.
“Absentee ballots have always been an option, it never was an issue until you have political candidates making it one. Now this thing people didn’t know existed are trying to find a way to mess with it,” he said.
For students taking classes remotely from another state, check deadlines and voting options specific to your state. If confused on where to go, contact the Center for Civic Justice directly or visit their recently launched #SeawolvesVote Checklist.
Cartright encouraged students to not only educate themselves but educate others on the voting options available this year.
“It is important we are here for each other during these confusing times,” she said. “It is not enough to complain about the state of America. Now we need to step up and vote.”