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What's on the New York ballot in 2020? 10 things to know

Jon Campbell
New York State Team

ALBANY – Millions of New York voters will head to the polls Nov. 3 to cast a ballot in the race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

But while the presidential race will grab the headlines, voters will be asked to decide a variety of consequential down-ballot races that will decide who will represent them on the federal, state and local levels.

Things may look a little different when voters head to the polls, too: COVID-19 has necessitated cleaning protocols and social distancing rules at local polling places, which election workers will be required to enforce.

Here are 10 things to know about Election Day 2020 in New York:

1) What's on the New York ballot in 2020?

Early voters line up at Orangetown Town Hall in Orangeburg Oct. 27, 2020. The line wrapped around the building.

The short answer: A lot.

The presidential race between Trump and Biden is the obvious headliner, but there are a number of other federal, state and local races, too.

Each of New York's 27 congressional districts are up for grabs this year, as are the 63 state Senate seats and 150 seats in the state Assembly.

There are a variety of local races depending where you live, too. You can check what's on your ballot by checking with your county board of elections or our online tool here.

More:Know your candidates: Who's on the ballot in New York

More:New York early voting: The long lines just won't let up. Here's why.

2) When do the New York polls open?

Polling places are open from 6 a.m. to 9 pm. statewide on Election Day.

Early voting sites are required to be open for a minimum of eight hours each weekday and five hours each weekend day from Oct. 24 through Nov. 1.

Exact times vary by county; check with your local board of elections.

3) Polling places required to have COVID-19 cleaning protocols

An "I voted" sticker is peeled off a roll

The state Board of Elections has issued guidance local polling sites are expected to follow when it comes to cleaning and sanitizing in the age of COVID-19.

Each site is expected to be cleaned and disinfected before opening and periodically throughout the day, according to the guidance. Hand sanitizer should be provided to voters.

Voters are also expected to wear masks and maintain social distance.

More:De Blasio to New Yorkers: Avoid out-of-state travel this holiday season

4) No state ballot questions this year

While many states have major referendums on the ballot — New Jersey voters, for example, are being asked whether to legalize marijuana — New York has nothing of the sort this year.

There was initially supposed to be a ballot question to borrow $3 billion for a variety of environmental projects, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo delayed the spending proposal in July, citing the pandemic and the state's fiscal hole.

There may be some local ballot questions, though. Check with your county board of elections to be sure.

More:NY won't ask voters to borrow $3B for environmental projects, Cuomo says

5) 2020 will be unique for declaring winners

An election employee sorts received absentee ballots at the Rockland County Board of Elections office in New City on Oct. 14.

Wondering when the close race in your district is going to be called? It might be a while and COVID-19 is to blame.

In a normal year, the winner of all but the tightest of races is known on election night. 

But in the COVID-19 era, New York has allowed any voter to request an absentee ballot. As of Saturday, more than 2.5 million voters requested an absentee ballot and more than 1.2 million ballots had already been returned — 3 times the number returned for the entire 2016 election.

In New York, absentee ballots are required to be postmarked by Election Day and can arrive at a county board of elections a week later. It varies when counties begin counting paper ballots, with some waiting a week or more after Election Day.

Bookmark this:Election results for Monroe County and New York state, updated live Nov. 3

With so many paper ballots distributed, they could decide many races across the state — leaving the potential for cliffhangers well past Election Day.

More:Voting by mail in New York? Avoid these mistakes to ensure your vote counts

6) Early voting could boost turnout

Hundreds of thousands of voters are taking advantage of New York's early voting system each day.

It marks the first time early voting has been available in the state during a presidential election.

Will it boost total voter turnout? Or are voters who normally cast their ballot on Election Day voting early instead?

We'll get a better sense on Election Day as results begin to come in.

More:Wednesday was New York's biggest early voting day yet. See the numbers here.

7) You can 'cure' your absentee ballot

A voter casts his ballot on Election Day at Living Christ Church polling station in South Nyack Nov. 5, 2019.

If you're worried you might have made a mistake with your absentee ballot, there's good news: You might get the chance to fix it.

Earlier this year, the state Board of Elections settled a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters.

As part of the deal, county elections officials will be required to contact voters if they made one of a number of common mistakes, such as forgetting to seal or sign their security envelope.

The voter will then be given a chance "cure" — or correct — the mistake and have their vote count. In the past, that vote could have been invalidated.

More:Can you change your vote in New York? Here are the scenarios

8) NY is blue, but not everywhere

There's little doubt whether New York's 29 electoral votes will go to Biden or Trump: Biden is up huge in the polls, and the state has backed a Democrat every cycle from 1988 on.

But that's driven almost entirely by heavily blue New York City, where Democratic candidates typically rack up major wins that make up for losses in red counties upstate.

This year, much of the intrigue will be centered on 19 counties that flipped from Democrat Barack Obama in 2016 to Republican Donald Trump in 2020, including many in the North Country and central New York.

Also among the flip counties: Broome, Orange, Sullivan and Niagara.

More:Trump flipped 19 NY counties in 2016. Can he hold on to them in 2020?

9) Congressional races could have national impact

In this Sept. 3, 2018, file photo, the U.S. Capitol is shown in Washington.

New York's congressional delegation is decidedly blue, with 21 Democrats to six Republicans.

But with all 27 districts on the ballot this year, New York has four districts rated as a "toss up" by The Cook Political Report, which rates congressional races throughout the country.

They are the:

  • 11th district on Staten Island, where Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat, faces a challenge from Republican Nicole Malliotakis
  • 2nd district on Long Island, where Republican Andrew Garbarino is facing off against Democrat Jackie Gordon to replace longtime Rep. Peter King, a Republican.
  • 22nd district in the Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier, where Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi is locked in a rematch with former Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney.
  • 24th district in central New York, where Republican Rep. John Katko is locked in a tight race with Democrat Dana Balter.

How those races go could make a difference in whether Democrats hold or expand their majority in the House of Representatives, or if Republicans can take it back.

10) No statewide races, but plenty of legislative races

All 213 state legislative districts are on the ballot, but barring an absolute Republican wave, neither the Senate nor Assembly appear to be in serious danger of flipping from Democratic control.

In past cycles, Republicans and Democrats have battled for a Senate majority. But that's no longer the case: Democrats currently control 40 seats in the 63-seat chamber, a comfortable margin unlikely to flip in a single cycle.

It's an even bigger margin in the Assembly, where Democrats exceed 2-to-1 majority in the 150-seat chamber.

One thing to watch: If Democrats pick up two more seats in the Senate, the party would have a supermajority in both houses that would allow it to override any potential vetoes by Cuomo.

More:The battle for the New York Senate: Key races to watch on Election Day

Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.

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