Q&A: The Absentee Ballot Process – Information for Voters

The 2020 school budget vote and Board election is taking place by absentee ballot only. Ballots must be received by 5 p.m. on June 9 if they are being hand delivered to drop boxes located at the District Office or Niskayuna High School and by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16, if they are being returned by U.S. Mail.

Given that this is different from past years, we are posting this Q&A about the absentee ballot process for our community.

Why is this year’s budget vote taking place by absentee ballot only?

On May 1, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that this year’s budget vote and board of election would take place exclusively by absentee ballot in June, instead of the traditional mid-May date because of concerns about the coronavirus public health crisis.

Instead of heading to the polls, voters should have received an absentee ballot in the mail. In order for a vote to be counted, voters must fill out the ballot, sign the envelope where indicated, and return it to the school district. The deadlines are different depending on if you are hand delivering your ballot or returning it by U.S. Mail:

  • Hand Delivery of Completed Ballots (District Office and High School Drop Boxes): Tuesday, June 9 at 5 p.m.
  • U.S. Mail: Ballots being  returned by U.S. Mail must be received by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16

How and when were absentee ballots sent?

Absentee ballots were mailed to qualified voters on May 26 with a prepaid return envelope addressed to the school district. If you are a qualified voter and have not received a ballot, please contact District Clerk Cynthia Gagnon at (518) 377-4666, ext. 50706 or at cgagnon@niskyschools.org as soon as possible.

Am I a qualified voter?

If you are a U.S. citizen, 18 years old and have been a resident of the district for 30 days or more prior to June 9, you are a qualified voter in the 2020-21 school budget vote and board election.

I got my absentee ballot. What should I do now?

Once you receive your ballot, carefully read and follow the directions. Sign and date the envelope where indicated. If your envelope is unsigned, your vote can not be counted. This video includes a step-by-step process for voting by absentee ballot.

I made a mistake. Can I get a new ballot?

If you tear, deface or wrongly mark your ballot, contact District Clerk Cynthia Gagnon at (518) 377-4666, ext. 50706 or at cgagnon@niskyschools.org immediately.

When should I send my ballot back to the school district?

Ballots may be returned by mail by using the enclosed prepaid return envelope or placed in boxes that are located at the main entrance of Niskayuna High School and in the parking lot adjacent to District Office near the corner of Van Antwerp Road and Dexter Street.  Please return your ballot in time to ensure it is received by the district prior  to the deadlines of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9, for hand delivery (to the drop boxes) and 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16, if you are sending it back by U.S. Mail.  The drop boxes will be available weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through June 9. If you are sending your ballot back by U.S. Mail, if it is not received by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16, it cannot be counted.

What happens when the district receives my ballot?

The district marks all returned ballots as received, and secures them until the June 16 U.S. Mail deadline. On June 16, the absentee ballots will be opened and counted beginning at 5 p.m. The public will be able to view this part of the process via a livestream.

Why do I have to sign my name on the envelope?

Just as voters are asked to sign a register when they vote in person, voters using absentee ballots are asked to provide a signature. This signature constitutes an affidavit — you are attesting to your identity as a voter who is qualified to cast a ballot in this election. This information is recorded on the district’s voter rolls — a list of names of all the people who cast ballots.

Is my vote still confidential?

Yes. While your name will be registered on the district’s voter rolls, your ballot will be separated from the envelope that bears your name, return address, or other personally identifiable information prior to being unfolded and scanned into the machine.

Is the absentee voting process different due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

The district has prepared, sent out and counted absentee ballots to qualified voters for many years, and will follow that same procedure this year, only on a larger scale. This year, all voting is being done via absentee ballot, whereas in previous years, most voters cast ballots in person.

Will the public be able to see the process of the ballots being scanned into the voting machines?

Yes. Poll workers will be scanning the ballots into the voting machines immediately following the 5 p.m. deadline on June 16 for ballots to be received through U.S. Mail. This process will be livestreamed for the public from 5 p.m. until all of the ballots are counted and the results are announced. The livestream link and access information will be provided on the district website homepage and the main budget page on Tuesday morning, June 9, and will remain there during the course of the day until results are announced and the livestream is over. Please note that in order to protect confidentiality and to give voters a view of the entire process, the camera angle will be wide to show the entire area where ballots are being scanned.

How can my vote be confidential if the count is open to the public?

Since ballots are separated from personally identifiable information before they are counted, the public counting process is anonymous. No one viewing the counting of ballots will be able to match a voter’s personally identifiable information with their specific ballot.

When will the results of the budget vote and board election become available to the public?

The district will begin the counting process at 5 p.m. on June 16. This process will be livestreamed for the public as noted above. Once the results are available, they will be posted on the district website and communicated to the news media. Given that approximately 18,000 ballots were mailed to qualified voters, we do not currently have an estimate for how long it will take before results are available, but the process will run continuously from 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16, until all ballots are counted.

Whom do I contact if I have any additional questions?

Please contact District Clerk Cynthia Gagnon at (518) 377-4666, ext. 50706 or at cgagnon@niskyschools.org as soon as possible.