NYC Election Officials Defend Military Ballot Procedures

By Jon E. Dougherty at 16 Oct 2010

Board of Election officials in New York City have defended their handling of absentee ballots for overseas military members, saying a just-granted extension ensures their votes will be counted in the upcoming Nov. 2 election.

Valerie Vazquez, a spokesman for NYC's Board of Elections, said in a statement that despite earlier reports the city couldn't meet a federally mandated deadline to mail absentee ballots to military members, the BOE has "completed Absentee and Federal Ballot Mailings," though city officials also missed an Oct. 1 waiver deadline initially granted by the federal government.

"The results of New York City’s Primary Election were certified last Tuesday, October 5, which allowed for the printing and subsequent mailing of absentee ballots last week and over the weekend," Vazquez said in a statement, adding that all ballots were finally mailed Oct. 10.

Vazquez said absentee balloting procedures took longer than usual this year because of changes in New York state law and requirements "related to the new voting system in New York City."

Under provisions of the 2009 Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act, every state must mail their absentee ballots to overseas military personnel and other American voters 45 days prior to elections. But New York state as a whole, Vazquez said, "received a deadline waiver to October 1st" because state law required primaries to be held by Sept. 14 - four days prior to the federal law's 45-day mandate.

Since state law also calls for a "seven day post election period during which military and absentee ballots are to be received and canvassed prior to certification of election results," the earliest date which the state could certify primary results was Sept. 22, Vazquez said.

Newsroom America reported last week that the Justice Department was preparing a lawsuit against the state of New York after several counties and five boroughs in New York City missed the Oct. 1 deadline.

Vazquez did not comment on the lawsuit, but defended the city's process and said a new nine-day extension granted Friday by the BOE means military votes will be counted, provided they are postmarked by Nov. 1. And, she said the state has established a new Web site to allow military and overseas voters to immediately obtain their general election ballots by email in addition to the existing fax and mail options. That site is www.elections.state.ny.us, and users should select "Military & Overseas Voters."

"The Board anticipates that this will allow for time for NYC service members to cast their vote for the General Election, particularly since New York State allows for absentee ballots to be counted up to 13 days after Election Day," she said.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Justice officials, concerned that the Oct.1 deadline had been missed, were "negotiating with New York election officials over extending a period after the Nov. 2 election by which such ballots could arrive and still be counted.

"The goal of the negotiations is to reach a joint agreement to settle the lawsuit as a consent decree approved by a federal judge, which would be legally binding and would pre-empt state election laws," the paper reported.

Vazquez said concerns over conflicts between state law and the MOVE Act have been referred to the "New York State Senate and Assembly for review."

The Justice Department is also investigating allegations that the state of Illinois failed to comply with the federal law. Cris Cray, Director of Legislation at the Illinois State Board of Elections, told WLS-AM 890 that some of the state's 110 congressional districts may have missed a deadline imposed by the law.

The department settled a case with New Mexico last week after six counties were found to be in violation of the law.

Problems with military balloting have occurred with some frequency since the 2000 presidential election, when servicemembers overseas began to complain they either weren't receiving ballots or were getting them too late to vote in what turned out to be a close election between George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore - an election that was eventually decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

(c) 2010 Newsroom America.

Contact Jon E. Dougherty

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