Absentee Ballot Issues Abound in First Congressional District Race

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin
U.S. Congressman Lee Zeldin.

Immigration, health care, Social Security, Medicare and the pros and cons of Trump administration policy may be the issues at the center of the battle for the First Congressional District, but absentee ballots took center stage this week in the race between incumbent Congressman Lee Zeldin and challenger Perry Gershon.

This week, Mr. Gershon, a Democrat, called on the U.S. attorney’s office to investigate a mailer sent by Mr. Zeldin’s campaign that falsely identified the deadline to postmark absentee ballots as November 6, Election Day, rather than the correct deadline of November 5. Under state election law, any ballots postmarked after November 5 would be deemed invalid.

This is the second election cycle a mailer has been sent out by the Zeldin campaign with the incorrect deadline date.

“The Department of Justice needs to investigate what is clearly an attempt to defraud the voters of Suffolk County,” said Mr. Gershon in a statement on Wednesday. “The fact that this has happened two elections in a row is not a coincidence and it’s not a mistake. It’s an irresponsible, anti-democratic strategy of deliberate deception.”

On Tuesday, Zeldin campaign spokesman Chris Boyle said the error was made by the printer, the Bohemia-based PDQ Print and Mail and provided a statement from the owner of that company confirming his company’s error.

“Unfortunately, in a printing error, the absentee ballot mail piece sent out for Lee Zeldin last week had a mistake in the date absentee ballots need to be postmarked by,” said Scott Nordin in a statement emailed to The Sag Harbor Expressby Mr. Boyle. “The Zeldin Campaign had sent and approved the piece with November 5th (the correct date) but in a printing error, the wrong file was printed. A new run with the corrected date was then immediately sent back out.”

Mr. Boyle said the campaign caught the error, but that the printer sent the wrong proof through. Despite claims that the mailers were sent primarily to Democratic Party members, Mr. Boyle said in an email that “most mail pieces went to non-Dems.”

He added that the campaign’s Facebook advertising and website landing page have only ever referenced November 5 as the deadline for absentee ballots.

“We absolutely want everyone to be completely aware that the date to postmark absentee ballots is November 5,” said Mr. Boyle.

In the meantime, Mr. Zeldin’s campaign on Wednesday morning issued a press release stating that voters in “historically Republican areas” in Smithtown received absentee ballots from the Suffolk County Board of Elections without Mr. Zeldin’s name on the ballot. The campaign submitted a scan of an example of one of the erroneous ballots

“I was notified today by multiple First Congressional District Republicans in Smithtown that they just received absentee ballots from the Suffolk County Board of Elections with the NY-3 congressional ballot instead of NY-1,” said Mr. Zeldin in the release. “There needs to be an immediate investigation into who is responsible for this Republican voter suppression targeting the most highly saturated concentration of Republican voters in the First Congressional District.”

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Board of Elections was the focus of criticism by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Wednesday after Newsday reported that it has stopped automatically allowing voters to cast their absentee ballots at its headquarters in Yaphank, citing a surge in walk-in absentee ballots, according to the Newsday report.

Mr. Bellone held a press conference Wednesday afternoon announcing he had filed a complaint with the New York State Board of Elections to require the Suffolk County Board of Elections to immediately process walk-in absentee ballots as they are received, as was historically practiced at board of elections headquarters. According to Mr. Bellone’s office, he has also sent a letter to the board of elections urging them to revise its policy in advance of the upcoming elections.

Shortly after filing his complaint with the New York State Board of Elections, the local board reversed its decision to deny walk-in voters the ability to cast ballots immediately.

“This decision is a win for voters,” said Mr. Bellone. “We will remain vigilant in identifying and calling out any additional efforts to prevent people in Suffolk County from exercising their right to vote.”