UTICA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — In a live interview with NewsChannel 9, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said an “investigation” is “definitely needed” into apparent failures by the Oneida County Board of Elections to process voter registration paperwork for 2,400 people last fall.
The problems were discovered during a partial recount of votes cast in New York’s 22nd Congressional race to fulfill an order from a State Supreme Court Justice in Oswego.
Picente said, “My first goal, obviously, for everybody, is that we get this settled. However it is.”
Currently, the 22nd Congressional District has an office for constituent services on Capitol Hill, but no representative to cast a vote.
“After that,” Picente continues, “We’ll have to take a look and investigate just what happened in our board of elections. It’s the kind of the oddity in county government, because, while I deal with, as other counties deal with, the budgets and whatever, we don’t oversee that department. It’s overseen by the State of New York. A lot of questions, investigation definitely needed to clear this up, but also some reforms needed.”
The 2,400 people applied for registration electronically through the Department of Motor Vehicles, but the paperwork was never processed by the Board of Elections to make them eligible to vote.
It’s not known how many of those people never went to the polls or were turned away at the polls without voting, but 69 people demanded to fill out a provisional ballot.
Provisional or affidavit ballots are used when the poll workers can’t verify the voter’s validity, allows them to vote on Election Day but the ballot isn’t counted until the voter is verified.
Friday, Justice Scott DelConte asked: “How many people wanted to participate, went to the polling place, and walked away without being given a chance to vote? We’ll never know.”
After all absentee ballots were counted in November, Claudia Tenney’s lead dwindled to basically a dead heat between her and incumbent Anthony Brindisi, whose term expired when the new Congress convened in early January.
The court proceedings exposed sloppy record-keeping by the boards of elections across the eight counties of the district, the most egregious found in Oneida County.
In addition to the failure to process paperwork, the elections commissioners lost track of which challenged ballots were and were not counted, because they used “stick notes” to mark them with notes. The court-ordered recanvas required the commissioners to follow the law as written and mark notes right on each ballot.
Tenney’s campaign has argued the board of elections was likely understaffed or underfunded after Gov. Andrew Cuomo adjusted election rules during the pandemic.
The Supreme Court Justice has indicated the problem wasn’t due to the pandemic or staffing.
Picente says, “Just to be clear, we were never told of any additional needs of staffing.”
The Oneida County elections commissioners, Democrat Carolann Cardone and Republican Rose Grimaldi, both had to testify before the virtual courtroom.
Both were reappointed by their respective party committees and approved by the Oneida County Legislature to continue with their jobs.
When asked if he has confidence in the commissioners moving forward, Picente said, “I’ll have more to say about it after this case is done.”
According to a source familiar with election law, only the governor can remove a sitting elections commissioner.