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New York State says laws address fraud concerns over absentee voting

An application to obtain a New York State

An application to obtain a New York State absentee ballot for Suffolk County. Credit: Newsday/Ken Sawchuk

ALBANY — President Donald Trump warned last week that states such as New York that have increased access to absentee balloting to avoid spreading coronavirus are going “down this voter fraud path.” But state laws are in place to avoid exactly that, according to the state Board of Elections.

The rules will be tested this year as never before.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order last month that will send applications for absentee ballots to all voters for the June 23 Democratic primary. A voter must check the box on the application for “temporary illness or physical disability,” but will not be required to appear before election officials to obtain an absentee ballot. Voters would have to mail the application to their local boards of election, which will then send absentee ballots to them.

Traditionally, absentee ballots could be used only if a voter is sick, away for work or otherwise unable to show up at the polls.

Trump has said he fears that an increase in absentee balloting in Michigan and Washington state will be ripe for voters casting a ballot by mail and then again at the polls.

But under New York State law, election officials say, the name on every absentee ballot must be checked against the books at the polls, which must be signed by the voter each year. Each book typically has several signatures from past election days for comparison.

State election law also requires candidates and party leaders to be present during absentee-ballot counting, which can begin no later than eight days after a primary.

In the past, these counts often have been lengthy processes that can take days or weeks with each side, through their election lawyers, able to challenge a ballot.

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This year may be different. With so many more absentee ballots expected, it could take much longer to settle a close race.

There is another possible delay: affidavit ballots. Last year, the Legislature passed a law requiring voters who move from one county to another between elections to sign an affidavit, which then also is analyzed by election officials. Previously, affidavits were required only when a voter moved within a county. The state has a computer database that is used to identify anyone who tried to vote from two addresses.

“Voting absentee in New York is safe and verified,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/New York, a good-government advocate. “We can feel confident voting absentee just like the president himself, who voted absentee in New York in 2018 and earlier this year in Florida, where he's now registered.

“It may take additional time to count absentee ballots, but that's just part of the process of confirming eligible ballots for accurate results,” Lerner said.

Not everyone is so confident.

"New York State is not equipped to deal with potential fraud related to widespread absentee voting," said Candice Giove, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport).

"Our poll books are often inaccurate and ballots could be mailed to individuals who no longer reside, and are no longer eligible to vote at old addresses or who have passed away," said Giove. "Election inspectors are also forbidden, by executive order, to enter assisted living facilities to ensure that voter fraud doesn't occur. Concerns also exist about employers influencing a person's choice of candidate on a piece of paper, which cannot be done while voting in person."

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