ALBANY (TNS) — Two Republican members of the state Board of Elections, citing recent criminal investigations involving alleged absentee ballot fraud, criticized Gov. Kathy Hochul for recently signing into law two pieces of legislation they say “are a direct threat to the integrity of the election process.”
The statement this week from co-Chairman Peter S. Kosinski and Anthony J. Casale, a commissioner and former state assemblyman, said Hochul had pledged on Dec. 16 to allow every New York voter to vote absentee, “despite the fact that the New York state Constitution restricts absentee voting to people unable to vote in person due to illness or being out of their county of residence on Election Day.”
The statement from Kosinski and Casale noted that voters in November had rejected a proposal to amend the Constitution to allow “no-excuse” absentee voting. They say the legislation signed by Hochul will expand the ability of political operatives to harvest absentee ballots and restrict public access to observe counting of those ballots.
”The first bill allows third parties ... political operatives, to apply for absentee ballots for voters by doing away with the requirement that the voter sign the absentee ballot application prior to the ballot being sent to the voter,” their statement reads. “We have seen in various parts of New York ... the manipulation of this process which was allowed by an Executive Order by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The State Police and FBI have been investigating widespread allegations of ballot fraud by Republican operatives in Rensselaer County since shortly before the November election. No charges have been filed but multiple public officials have been a focus of that ongoing investigation.
A portion of that investigation includes examining whether any of dozens of residents at a public housing complex in north Troy were pressured to vote by absentee ballot.
”Allowing third parties to submit applications for absentee ballots on behalf of voters without the voters knowledge or consent, furthers those who seek to unduly influence how people vote,” the statement from Kosinski and Casale said. “Since the third party who has submitted the application on the voter’s behalf knows you are going to receive an absentee ballot, they can seek to influence your vote.”
Another outcome of the legislation signed by the governor will be to require boards of election to begin opening absentee ballots at least 40 days before the election and to continue opening them until 17 days following an election. The current law sets out that absentee ballots are opened after polls close and upon notice to candidates and interested parties. The current law allows observers to challenge ballots that do not meet the legal requirements of voting.
”This due process right and important check on the accuracy of the count has been eliminated by the new legislation. Why eliminate the challenge process?” they said. “The only conclusion is to rush the counting of absentee ballots regardless of their legitimacy. It is noteworthy that the legislation continues to allow challenges to persons voting in person at the poll sites.”
Kosinski and Casale contend the measures are intended to shift from in-person to absentee voting that they say will result in less integrity in the voting process.
Rensselaer County Republican leaders previously told the Times Union that they were unaware of any fraudulent activity during the election by their party, and that they had simply taken advantage of the directive from the state Board of Elections that allowed individuals to use absentee ballots if they did not want to vote in-person due to the pandemic.
Last month, State Police interviewed Rensselaer Mayor Michael E. Stammel at City Hall, seizing his mobile phone as part of the wider investigation that began with allegations of voter fraud in that city’s mayoral race.
Stammel, a Republican, won reelection when a judge certified his victory over Democratic challenger Richard J. Mooney, who had asked a court to throw out a significant number of absentee ballots, including some filed on behalf of voters who said they had not authorized anyone to file absentee ballots for them.
The accusations of ballot fraud in that county had been leveled by opposing Republican and Democratic camps after a high number of absentee ballots were issued to political operatives and campaign volunteers on behalf of voters who authorized others to handle their ballot.