By Maggie Cai and Raghava Lakshminarayana
Kathleen Watchorn arms herself with a roll of 47-cent postage stamps as she walks around the Adelphi University campus. The stamps sport waving American flags against a blue sky, appropriate as she searches for any stragglers who have not applied for their absentee ballot yet.
This election year, Suffolk County is expecting a 2.4 percent increase in absentee voters. According to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, 25,809 absentee ballots have been returned as of Nov. 2. They are still expecting to receive 10,000 more absentee ballots within the next five days.
In the 2012 election year, Suffolk County had a total of 34,953 absentee votes. If the remaining ballots do come in, or are postmarked, within the Nov. 7 deadline, Suffolk County will have a total of 35,809 absentee votes for this year’s election.
“Absentee ballots are opened by election officials and counted with all other ballots,” Shannon Lane, Professor in the School of Social Work at Adelphi University who has worked in the Senate for over 10 years, said. “Even if they arrive after election day, they are still counted as long as they were postmarked by November 7, the day before the election.”
Absentee voting is a process that allows voters to cast their ballot when they are unable to where they are registered. After a request for an absentee ballot is submitted to the voter’s county board of elections, an empty ballot is sent to the voter. For this election cycle, the ballot must be sent back and postmarked by Nov. 1 or returned in person by Nov. 7.
In the 2012 election year, 3,094 absentee ballots were returned to New York City, which includes Kings and Queens County. There were 32,065 absentee ballots returned to Nassau County in the same year.
This year, Nassau County has received 24,999 absentee ballots back, more than half of the number of ballots sent out, as of Nov. 4 and expects to continue to receive more as the deadline approaches. Kings and Queens County could not be reached to provide the number of absentee ballots they have received for this year’s election.
People should start worrying about the deadline at the end of Oct., Kathleen Watchorn, Coordinator of Adelphi Votes, said. “How soon they get that ballot back is dependent on the county-back in Sept., Nassau County told me that in one day they had 2,000 absentee ballot applications so that’s a lot to turn around.”
New York State requires voters to provide an explanation for being unable to make it to the polls on Election Day. “It is much easier to vote where you’re registered, but if you are unable to get there, absentee voting is an option,” Timothy Soberano, a student from Queens County who is attending school at Pennsylvania State University, said.
In 2014, more than 31 percent of voters voted in-person or through the mail before election day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “It’s probably more widespread this year because there’s a lot more emphasis on voting,” Watchorn said. She has helped over 100 students at Adelphi University apply for absentee ballots.
Absentee ballots can make a difference for the presidential election if there is a close race, but are more likely to make a difference in local or state elections, Lane said. “Those elections have less people voting and the margin of victory is smaller.”
The application processes for absentee ballots differ by state. Lexi Williams applied for an absentee ballot from Miami-Dade County in Florida in Sept. She is now living on Long Island and was told her request had been cancelled. She had to reapply. “As of today, nine days before the election, I still have not gotten my ballot,” Williams said.
For those who are abroad, the process comes with more obstacles. “I requested my ballot to be sent to me in Germany and it was sent to my home in New York City,” Austin Polanco, a registered voter in New York City who is attending school in Germany, said. “This complicates things because now I have a smaller window of time to send my ballot back to the U.S.”
As the deadline for absentee ballots nears, others find ways to resolve problems with sending in their ballots. “I debated having my ballot mailed here, but knowing the notorious issues with international mail here in Argentina, I decided just to authorize my dad to pick up and drop off the ballot,” Michael Gusev, a registered voter from Harlem who is studying in Argentina, said. “Being abroad during the inflammatory election season we’ve had and casting my vote for my first presidential election without being able to physically fill it out and drop it off has certainly given me some new thoughts about the power and powerlessness that we have as American citizens.”