Republicans slammed the recent move by state Democrats to mail to an unknown number of voters absentee-ballot applications with several fields on the form prefilled.
Democrats urged recipients to cite fear of contracting Covid-19 at a polling place as their reason for requesting an absentee ballot and pre-checked this selection on the applications.
State GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said the mailings are legal but represent an "abuse" of state election law.
"I think what's crystal clear is that they're trying to use the loophole of fear of contraction of Covid to expand mail-in voting," Langworthy said in an interview Monday. He has widely criticized the ballot application mailings in recent weeks.
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Democrats defended the mailers as an appropriate measure to encourage New Yorkers to vote without having to worry about their health as Covid-19 cases stubbornly persist. Democrats also said Republicans are hypocritical in attacking this electioneering effort when the state GOP has come under scrutiny for thousands of duplicate signatures on petitions submitted to try to acquire an additional ballot line for gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin.
“Nick Langworthy and Lee Zeldin should take a hard look in the mirror given their shared record of spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories to overturn the 2020 presidential election, as well as the Zeldin campaign's own ongoing scandal surrounding fraudulently submitted, photocopied petition signatures,” state Democratic Party spokesman James Martin said in an email.
Not every one of the state's 5.9 million active registered Democrats received a ballot application because, it seems, the mailings were targeted to party members who haven't consistently voted in previous elections. State Democrats declined to say how many of the mailers went out.
A cover letter identifies the state Democratic Committee as the source of the mailers. The letter emphasizes the convenience of voting by absentee ballot and notes fear of Covid-19 is a valid reason to request an absentee ballot.
The forms mailed out by Democrats are applications for an absentee ballot and not the ballots themselves.
The application has several fields prefilled, including the voter's name, address and Covid-19 as the reason for the requested ballot. Voters just need to sign and date the application and mail it to their local county board of elections.
Gregory Sojka, a member and former chair of the Lancaster Republican Committee, said he received questions about the ballot application from a few voters. He provided copies of the cover letter and ballot application to The Buffalo News.
Sojka joined Langworthy in saying there are many legitimate reasons for voters to request an absentee ballot, such as a debilitating illness or an extended out-of-town stay that makes it impossible to vote in person. And, they conceded, there are New Yorkers who still do worry about the spread of Covid-19.
But, they said, it is improper for state Democrats to presume every letter recipient is unable to vote in person because of Covid-19 concerns, particularly at a time when travel restrictions at the Canadian border are easing and Gov. Kathy Hochul has lifted the state emergency order imposed at the beginning of the pandemic.
Sojka questioned how Democrats have, as he put it, "the psychic ability to know what a voter in Western New York wants to put down for their reason for getting an absentee ballot."
Langworthy noted that New York voters last year rejected a referendum that would have allowed voting by absentee ballot without providing a reason.
"We don't have no-fault absentee in this state. It was defeated by the people of the State of New York, of all parties, who came forward and said, 'No, we don't want that,' " he said. "What they're doing is deciding for the voter as to what purpose they shall be requesting an absentee ballot. I think it stinks. I think it's underhanded."
Erie County Democrats say their party encourages efforts to make voting as accessible as possible while Republicans fan voting conspiracy theories and attempt to undermine free and fair elections.
"Republican objections ring hollow at a time when their party is nominating election deniers to key offices in multiple states, and the Amherst GOP committee is hosting MAGA conspiracy theorists this very evening," Erie County Chair Jeremy Zellner said Monday.
The Amherst Republican Committee on Monday will host a group peddling the unfounded claim that the results of the 2020 election in New York must be tossed out due to widespread fraud.
That's a reference to an event held Monday night featuring a presentation from New York Citizens Audit, whose members seek to decertify the 2020 election in the state. Organizers also screened the movie "2000 Mules," whose claims of election fraud have been widely debunked.
Amherst Republican Chairman Brian D. Rusk defended the gathering as a bipartisan, educational forum on election integrity.
Democrats also pointed to the submission earlier this year by the state Republican Party of nominating petitions with a reported 11,000 duplicate signatures in an attempt to secure the Independence Party line for Zeldin in his race against Hochul.
The Albany County District Attorney's Office and the state Board of Elections are investigating, according to the Albany Times-Union. Jessica Proud, a state GOP spokeswoman, did not respond to a request for comment on this charge from Democrats.
Sojka said it's important to hold both parties accountable for any efforts to subvert the voting process. He noted Zeldin's campaign hasn't been linked to the petition submissions, but said he can't defend what Republicans in Albany are accused of doing.
"Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, that is wrong," Sojka said.