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Inactive Voters Are Worrisome Wildcard

Registered voters in New York State fall into two main categories — active and inactive voters. I contend that sending mail-in ballots to inactive voters is problematic. This is not to be confused with absentee voting.

New York state has had absentee voting for a long time. If someone is in the military, has a permanent or temporary physical disability, is out of the county on Election Day, or an election official working on Election Day, they are able to make an application to the Board of Elections, and if approved, have a paper ballot sent to the address listed on their application. But, the key here is that the individual is a registered voter, takes the initiative and fills out an application. The information on that application can then be verified by Board of Elections personnel.

This is quite different from mail-in balloting. In this process, paper ballots are automatically sent to every registered voter in the county. If state Gov. Anderw Cuomo issues an executive order for the general election directing that active and inactive voters are to receive mail-in ballots, I definitely have a problem sending ballots to inactive voters.

Each year the Board of Elections issues a non-forwardable mail-check card to every registered voter in the county, to the address the voter is registered from. If the mail-check card is undeliverable to that person at that address — maybe they’ve died, moved — it is returned to the Board of Elections. That person is then given inactive voter status — a status they can retain for up to four years. If at any time during that period the voter votes in any election, signs a petition, votes in a caucus, or notifies the Board they still reside at that address, they are restored to active voter status. If none of these things happen, election officials will begin the process of cancelling their registration.

In the meantime, these people who are classified as inactive, have not participated in the election process in any way during this time, have not voted in a presidential election, and may very well not be living there could be sent a mail-in ballot.

I’m not as concerned as others that the local post offices will be overwhelmed. They do a good job, and I’m sure they’ll get ballots to the people at the addresses given. But what happens then? Who’s voting that ballot? Are we even sure it’s the right person?

In Chautauqua County there are 5,176 inactive voters, roughly 6% of all registrations. In New York state there are 1,270,407 inactive voters –roughly 10% of all state registrations. Mailing ballots to inactive voters is in my opinion, an invitation to voter fraud.

I strongly oppose mail-in balloting.

If the governor gives an executive order for a mail-in election, I am confident the Legislature will do everything possible to ensure Chautauqua County has a smooth and efficient election. However, there will be additional costs to county taxpayers.

If our Board of Elections needs another high-speed scanner for counting paper ballots at a cost of $36,000, or another $20,000 — $30,000 for part-time help in verifying signatures, I’m sure the Legislature will provide whatever is needed. But, at a time when COVID-19 has caused economic distress in our county, these additional costs will be felt. Additionally, the Board of Elections will be facing some monumental challenges. They have met challenges in the past, and I’m sure they will do their best to make the process work.

County Legislatures and Boards of Elections need as much lead time as possible.

If Mr. Cuomo is going to issue an executive order, he should do so soon. And, that executive order should exclude mail-in ballots to inactive voters.”

Terry Niebel is currently serving as a county legislator from District 5. He also is a former Election Official.

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