Virus roils primaries, school district votes

HUDSON–Uncertainty permeates the governmental and school elections currently scheduled for June: uncertainty about how voting will take place, who the candidates will be and, in one case, uncertainty about the date. All plans are subject to change as Columbia County government and school officials wait for directions from New York State.

‘People are encouraged to vote absentee.’

Ken Dow

County Democratic Election Commissioner

On Monday, April 27, the state Board of Elections canceled New York’s Democratic presidential primary. Former Vice President Joe Biden will be the state’s Democratic Party candidate against President Donald Trump this fall. But the primaries for federal and state legislators will still be held June 23. Voters for each political party will help determine candidates for the general election November 3.

The county Board of Elections must mail an application form for an absentee ballot to every voter in the county eligible to vote in the remaining primaries, according to state election officials, who met Monday. Any eligible voter, based on party enrollment, may vote on an absentee ballot by checking “temporary illness” as the reason for needing a paper mail-in ballot. Eligible voters who mail in the application will receive an absentee ballot for the primary election.

“People are encouraged to vote absentee,” said Columbia County Democratic Election Commissioner Ken Dow ahead of this week’s vote by the state Board of Elections. He added that “there will still also be polling places…. But that can change.”

The primary elections were planned to include nine days of early voting. How the process will accommodate early voting was not clear Monday.

“We want to keep a watch on this,” said Mr. Dow. He advised that “Governor Cuomo has issued a number of executive orders, and can issue more.”

None of this resolves the question of when school districts will hold their annual budget vote and school board elections. Originally the school elections were set for mid-May, but school officials are awaiting a decision by the state on a new date before the start of the new school year, which begins July 1.

The school districts—there are six in Columbia County–must send out legal notices 45 to 49 days ahead of the vote. But New York State has not designated an exact date for the school elections, so the district has not issued legal notices. Now, the earliest dates for which it is possible to send out legal notices in time are in mid-June.

School districts, which were beginning to accept ballot petitions from school board candidates, can accept no more until a date to be announced by the state.

The form that school elections will take is also uncertain. Before the Covid-19 crisis hit, Hudson and some other school districts had been planning to conduct votes at polling stations with paper ballots. Voting machines could not be used, because they had to be prepared for early voting in the primary. School elections are not slated to include early voting.

It’s possible that school elections could be conducted with only absentee ballots, but that might require the district to mail ballots to all 11,000 registered voters in Hudson City School District..

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