Just 56 votes currently separate the candidates in the 20th Congressional District race, and some Republicans charge that the Empire State’s late delivery of absentee ballots to military personnel stationed abroad could cost GOP candidate Jim Tedisco the election.
On Monday, a court hearing reviewed the counting the district’s absentee ballots. Attorneys for Democrat Scott Murphy charge that Tedisco’s attorneys have slowed down the vote-counting process by objecting to legitimate ballots. Tedisco attorney Jim Walsh told the court that election officials in Delaware and Essex counties had opened military and other overseas absentee ballots last week, in violation of a federal court order.
Many observers expect the 403 military and overseas ballots to favor Tedisco. About half of those ballots were cast by military personnel stationed abroad.
The number of military absentee ballots could have been much greater, some observers say, if the state had given soldiers stationed overseas more time to receive and cast their ballots.
Hans A. von Spakovsky, a visiting legal scholar at the Heritage Foundation, says numerous nonprofit watchdog groups, as well as the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, recommend that absentee ballots should be mailed to military personnel 45 days prior to the deadline for casting the votes. This is intended to give military voters fighting in far-flung war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan time to receive and respond to their mail.
In the special election in upstate New York, which has been heralded as a test of the popularity of President Obama’s economic policies, absentee ballots reportedly were mailed out March 12 and 13. March 30 was the deadline by which all absentee ballots had to be postmarked in order to be valid.
Essex County sent the ballots via express mail, but the District’s other nine counties sent them via regular mail. That meant a soldier conducting patrols out of Kandahar, Afghanistan, for example, would only have about 17 days to receive, complete, and mail back an absentee ballot sent via regular mail from the United States.
Von Spakovsky recently wrote in National Review online that military voters “will probably end up being disenfranchised and having their votes discounted, thanks to the irresponsible New York Board of Elections and the half-hearted actions of the Department of Justice.”
According to von Spakovsky, the Department of Justice asked the New York State Board of Elections to send the military absentee ballots sooner, but the Democratic members of the Board voted against the proposal.
The Board did agree to extend the deadline for receiving overseas ballots by six days to Monday April 13. The requirement for a March 30 postmark remains, however. The election was held on March 31.
Von Spakovsky writes in the National Review that the six-day extension “won’t be effective in protecting the votes of military voters.” He adds, “It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out who that ends up helping in a race with a 25-vote margin.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Murphy led Tedisco, 77,972 to 77,916, a margin of 56 votes.
Robert A. Brehm, deputy director of public information for the New York State Board of Elections, says the state’s election laws make it impossible to mail ballots 45-days before an election.
“In a special election, it’s even less time,” he says, “because the whole window from the date the governor issues the proclamation, to the date the election takes place, is 30 to 40 days before the election. Then you have to have a period of time for the parties to designate their candidates.”
He adds that ballots have to be printed and approved. “There is no way given the political calendar and our election law in New York that we could mail them out 45 days in advance,” he says.
Brehm adds that the Federate Voting Assistance Program (fvap.gov) provides overseas voters with an online ballot to use, if a requested absentee ballot has not arrived by two weeks prior to an election.
It’s unclear how many soldiers know about that program, however.
Spakovsky says states should use UPS and Federal Express accounts to expedite the distribution and return of ballots. Wall Street Journal author and commentator John Fund agrees.
"Liberals scream about disenfranchised voters,” Fund tells Newsmax, “but they largely fall silent when it comes to the shameful fact that many of our military servicemen and women and their families can't vote if they are overseas because of bureaucratic barriers.
“If New York's critical special election is determined by the fact that only a handful of military ballots were eventually returned because of too-tight deadlines by local registrars, then we need to take a close look at just how often super-close elections are determined, in part because military voters can’t easily vote. There are ways they could -- Federal Express and DHL have offered their help to provide low-cost or even free-delivery of ballots -- but Congress and the Pentagon have been dragging their feet."
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