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"Cured Ballot" Election Reforms Draws Out Count In NY-22

NY22 Curing Ballots - feature WEB

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — It’s been three weeks since Election Day and there’s still no winner in New York’s 22nd Congressional District. The rematch between Democratic incumbent Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) and former Republican Congresswoman Claudia Tenney is the state’s last House race to be decided.

The district includes parts of the Southern Tier, Central New York and Mohawk Valley.

With a major surge in absentee ballots and state election reforms passed over the summer, counting ballots has not been easy for election workers.

With more than 19,000 mail-in ballots returned to Broome County this year, there were bound to be a few errors. In those cases, election workers were tasked with curing the ballot.

That means reaching out to the voter and letting them correct the mistake before election commissioners disqualify the ballot.

According to Christina Dutko, Deputy Democratic Commissioner for the Broome County Board of Elections, the county used to have its own process for curing ballots.

If they received an absentee ballot that was not in the proper envelope, the county would reissue the ballot and send the voter a new ballot packet. The voter would then need to send that packet back by a deadline specific to their case, Dukto said.

In cases where a signature was missing, the elections commissioners would return the ballot back to the voter to sign and return. If they don’t send it back in time, or if election officials could not find another way to verify the voter’s identity, that ballot may be rejected.

But not all counties in New York cured ballots until this fall. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a “notice and cure” act in August, after the state saw an unprecedented number of absentee ballots for the June primaries returned with errors and rejected.

Dutko said the law requires boards of elections to notify the voter of their defective ballot within 24 hours of spotting the error and creates one universal process all counties must use to cure ballots. It’s a form that asks voters to submit an affirmation of their mistake.

“And then we can count it,” Dutko explained.

She said there were between 300 and 350 cured ballots required in Broome County for the 2020 presidential election, but every ballot sent in by mail has to be checked.

While that process typically takes a day, but with four times the number of absentee ballots returned in 2018, it took election workers three days to complete the count.

“Because it’s not just those 350, it’s all 19,000 that you’re scrutinizing and making sure that I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed, because we’re making sure we don’t disenfranchise voters,” Dutko said. “Our goal is to count as many votes as we possibly can.”

If the voter never returned their “cure” form and counties can’t verify their identity, that ballot is rejected. The campaign for Democratic incumbent Anthony Brindisi challenged several of those decisions in Broome County. Representatives for Republican Claudia Tenney objected to another 100 ballots.

Both campaigns challenged nearly 300 ballots across the district. Another 2,000 were rejected by election commissioners.

Oswego County Supreme Court judge Scott DelConte will review all challenged and rejected ballots on Monday. He ordered the review of all affidavit ballots for Tuesday. His decisions could close the 200-vote gap that stands between the candidates and determine a winner early this week.

Per state election law, a winner must be certified within 25 days after Election Day, or Nov. 28.