HUDSON—Due to the pandemic, state election law was recently amended to allow every voter eligible to vote in the November 3 General Election to vote by absentee ballot on the basis of “temporary illness or physical disability,” according to the county Board of Elections website; voters don’t need to be sick or infected with Covid-19 virus. “Temporary illness” includes being unable to appear due to risk of contracting or spreading a communicable disease like Covid-19.
Requests for absentee ballots have increased—see voting instructions below—but a new wrinkle emerged last week when, on September 29, county Republican Elections Commissioner Kelly Miller-Simmons announced in a press release that she had filed a complaint with state and federal authorities against the county Democratic Committee for “misuse of mail indicia and fraudulently misrepresenting an absentee mailing.”
Ms. Miller-Simmons’ complaint concerned an envelope sent by the Columbia County Democratic Committee to registered Democrats that contained a request for an absentee ballot. But the return envelope carried the return address of the county Board of Elections, not the Democratic Committee. She also claimed the Democrats did not have the right to use the indicia, the printed postage used for large scale mailings.
“I feel that it was clearly meant to mislead voters into believing it was official mail from the Columbia County Board of Elections,” Ms. Miller-Simmons wrote.
County Democratic Committee Chair Keith Kanaga responded to the complaint, issuing a statement that said in part that the committee had mailed absentee ballot applications to “a large number of voters in Columbia County, encouraging them to request absentee ballots.” He said all costs associated with the mailing were paid for by the Democratic Committee; “no public funds, or Board of Elections funds, were used.”
Mr. Kanaga said “the envelope designs were reviewed by the US Postal Service, and the postal indicia is that of the commercial firm we used to mail the applications. The notion that some inappropriate postage or indicia was used is nonsense.”
His statement also says, “it is disappointing that someone whose job is to encourage voter registration and voter turnout would find this mailing objectionable. It appears to be an attempt to discourage people from returning their absentee ballot applications and thereby suppress voter turnout.”
Commissioner Miller-Simmons said her office has “received calls and complaints from voters who have already requested their absentee applications. They were confused as to why they were getting this mailing when they had already applied.”
‘This seems to be a deliberate effort to mislead voters.’
Commissioner Kelly Miller-Simmons
Columbia County Board of Elections
She said what she wanted was to alert all voters the mailing was not from the Columbia County Board of Elections, adding, “We would never give permission for use of our official bi-partisan authority for such a purpose.
Democratic Elections Commissioner Kenneth Dow said in a statement on October 1 that Ms. Miller-Simmons’ complaint was an “individual complaint and is not an action of the Board of Elections.”
Mr. Dow said, “This kind of mailing is clearly permissible and appropriate for a political party or campaign. Candidates and party organizations routinely take actions to encourage and facilitate voting by their supporters, and all of the voter information in possession of the Board of Elections used in making such outreach is publicly available for such use.”
He agreed with Ms. Miller-Simmons that the committee should not have used the election board’s return address. “If it was done by choice, it was not good judgment. It is not, however, clear how it came to happen, as the Democratic Committee apparently worked with the US Postal Service to prepare the envelopes.”
How do you vote absentee? A registered voter can apply online for an absentee ballot at absenteeballot.elections.ny.gov or download and fill out the application at www.elections.ny.gov. Absentee ballot applications can be mailed to the Columbia County Board of Elections, 401 State Street, Hudson, NY 12534; The ballot application can also be emailed to or delivered in person to the Board of Elections.
Mr. Kanaga said in his statement, “We encourage everyone who has received an absentee ballot application to complete it and return it to the Board of Elections immediately.”
You must apply online, postmark or email a completed application or letter request for an absentee ballot no later than 7 days (that’s October 27) before the election, or you may apply in person up to the day before the election (November 2). But the state says to be aware that despite the stated deadlines the Post Office has advised that it cannot guarantee timely delivery of ballots applied for less than 15 days (October 19) before an election.
Completed absentee ballots can be dropped at the BOE or can be dropped off at any poll site between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Election Day; signs will be posted at the entrance to each polling place directing absentee voters where to drop off absentee ballots and not wait in line. Election inspectors will observe and control absentee ballot drop-off receptacles.
Even if you requested an absentee ballot, you can decide not to use it and vote instead in-person on Election Day. The state requires that the Board of Elections check the poll book before canvassing any absentee ballot to see whether a voter has voted at the polling place and counts the polling place ballot.
And then there’s early voting, which starts October 24 and runs through November 1 at 401 State Street in Hudson. All registered voters can vote there no matter where in the county they reside. Early votes will be canvassed and reported after 9 p.m. Tuesday, November 3 with all the in-person early votes counted Election Day.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email