ALBANY, NEW YORK STATE — Republican election officials in New York refused to process absentee ballots amid a lawsuit earlier this week, but later began opening and scanning the ballots after a warning from the state attorney general, officials said.
According to Onondaga County Democratic Commissioner Dustin Charney, who chairs the Onondaga County Board of Elections, about two-thirds of New York County’s boards of elections have refused to comply with court orders that kept the new early-ballot counting law in place pending a decision by the appeals court. Democratic Caucus of State Election Commissioners.
The pushback revolves around a pandemic rule that allows absentee ballots to be counted before Election Day, which has been contested by members of the Republican and conservative parties. Commission members in New York opened and scanned absentee ballots after the election, causing official vote counts to be delayed for weeks at times as lawyers challenged individual ballots for alleged irregularities.
More than 100 lawsuits related to the Nov. 8 election have been filed across the country this year. The legal challenges, mostly from Republicans, concern mail-in voting rules, early voting, voter access, voting machines, voter registration, the counting of mismarked absentee ballots and the access of vote observers.
Saratoga County District Judge Diane Freestone ruled on Oct. 21 that New York’s law conflicts with an individual’s constitutional right to challenge ballots in court before they are counted.
Although Republicans prevailed in the lower court, an appeals court temporarily stayed the ruling after Democrats, who control the state government, filed an appeal. The state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division in Albany will hear oral arguments Tuesday, a week before Election Day.
Lawyers representing Republicans have advised GOP members to hold off on opening ballots Friday as the party fights the court ruling, said Dutchess County Republican Elections Commissioner Eric Heit, who heads the state’s GOP caucus.
Republicans cited recommendations from the State Election Commission that the judge clearly did not order counties to begin recounting the ballots and that opening the ballots would have given the state the result they were hoping for on appeal before the decision was made.
Republicans also argued they had no chance to weigh in on the court’s ruling, handed down by state Appellate Division Judge John Egan.
“I don’t know this particular judge, but maybe he’s in favor,” Heit said. “If a Republican is right on a legal issue, I’ll be a Republican all day.”
On Thursday, Attorney General Leticia James’ office asked election board members to comply and begin processing ballots again.
Heit said that after it became clear that the court was not going to overturn the arrest, county boards began opening and scanning the ballots on Friday. Black said that after the attorney general’s letter, Republican county commissioners agreed to begin scanning the ballots Friday.
But Charney and other Democrats expressed concern that GOP officials in New York are flouting the court order at a time when the GOP is trying to sow voter confusion and throw out ballots.
“The fact that it has come this far is still a matter of great concern,” Charny said.
Charny said local councils have fallen behind, but “that doesn’t mean we can’t catch up. We have time until election day.”
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