Republicans fail in bid to stop early counting
The general election in New York state in 2020 stood out for two reasons: the expansion of absentee voting because of the pandemic and significant delays in reporting results as elections boards had far more mail-in ballots to process.
This year is different because of a new state law that allowed elections boards to count absentee ballots before Election Day.
When the polls closed on Tuesday (Nov. 8), Putnam County’s board had already verified and counted the 2,183 absentee ballots that it had received and included those votes in its unofficial results. The board sent out 3,192 ballots, so expects to receive more by the Tuesday receipt deadline.
“The new law absolutely is a help to getting all the votes tallied on election night,” said Catherine Croft, the Democratic commissioner. “I don’t miss the old way of opening absentee ballots a week after Election Day, especially if there is a close race.”
The law set aside a requirement that absentee ballots be counted within 14 days after the election. Boards now validate ballots within four days after they are received and can begin counting the day before the start of early voting.
It also prevents people who received absentee ballots from voting using a machine on Election Day. Instead, they could fill out an affidavit ballot.
The law faced a late court challenge from Republican officials, including Erik Haight, one of Dutchess County’s two elections commissioners.
Although the new way of counting ballots had been tested in the June and August primaries, the Republicans plaintiffs questioned the constitutionality of the process.
They argued that the prohibition on casting ballots by machine on Election Day if an absentee ballot had been submitted deprived people of their right to change their minds about candidates.
A state Supreme Court judge sided with the Republicans, but an appeals court overturned the ruling, saying the plaintiffs had waited too long to sue because more than 127,000 absentee ballots had been returned and processed, and because invalidating the law would cause significant delays in counting ballots.