CAPITAL REGION -- More area school districts Thursday reported delays in getting absentee ballots to district residents as the June 9 deadline looms for residents to return their votes in annual budget and school board elections.
Ballston Spa and Shenendehowa school districts both informed residents they likely won’t receive their ballots in the mail until this weekend, urging residents to return their ballots directly at drop boxes set up at district sites for that purpose.
State lawmakers have also increased calls to extend the vote deadline, or at least ensure districts will count ballots postmarked by the June 9 deadline, not just received by then. A Hudson Valley state senator proposed legislation moving the vote to June 16, and Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow for the “postmarked by” deadline.
“If it’s postmarked on or before the [June] 9th, it should be valid,” Tague said in a Thursday interview.
State Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, said some of his staff living in the Shenendehowa Central School District hadn’t yet received ballots and were notified Thursday they may not until this weekend. On Thursday he called the governor’s office to ask that Cuomo extend the election deadline to June 16 by executive order.
“Give them that extra week, this is a serious delay of getting these ballots to people,” Tedisco said in a Thursday interview. “If we tell him people are going to be disenfranchised, they aren’t getting their ballot until over the weekend, I think the governor wants people to have their votes counted as much as anyone.”
Bob Lowry, of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, on Thursday said the association was having “increased concern” as they hear about more districts facing delays in getting ballots to residents. The council and other advocacy groups earlier had warned that a June 9 election date held by mail-in ballots only -- as ordered by Cuomo -- would not give districts enough turnaround time to get ballots printed and sent to voters in advance of the election. Many districts had waited as long as possible to finalize budgets thinking they would get updated state aid numbers by mid-May, as state officials had suggested, only to learn nothing new.
While some of the delays across the state, including the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and Amsterdam school districts, were tied to a vendor in the western part of the state, other districts are facing delays due to envelope shortages and other issues in getting thousands of ballots printed and sent to the U.S. Postal Service.
Lowry also said it was possible the balloting headaches could turn into legal headaches if residents felt they didn’t receive a ballot with enough time to return it to be counted. He said it was possible there are more legal challenges after this election than in a typical year.
“It may be that there needs to be some adjustment in the deadline as we get a clearer picture of where things stand,” Lowry said, noting that he didn’t want efforts to find a solution to sow even greater confusion among voters.
While Cuomo’s executive order postponing the annual school election and requiring districts to send ballots to residents didn’t specify when ballots must be returned to be counted, school districts and their attorneys have largely interpreted the deadline as ballots must be “received by the district no later than June 9 at 5 p.m.” Election law establishes a postmark deadline for absentee ballots, but education law, which governs school elections, indicates mailed ballots in school elections must be received by 5 p.m. on the day of the vote.
In a statement provided to The Daily Gazette last month, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service recommended voters get ballots in the mail one week prior to the vote deadline. That date has already come and gone and many voters still don’t have ballots.
Residents in the Schalmont and Bethlehem school districts were only just receiving ballots in the mail on Thursday, while residents in Guilderland received ballots last week. But in numerous other districts in the region, officials on Thursday notified voters not to expect ballots until this weekend and to drop them off directly at district sites rather than return them through the mail.
“While we were originally assured that ballots would be arriving to you between Wednesday and Friday, we are no longer certain that will be true based on conversations with our post office,” Ballston Spa officials wrote in a message to the district community Thursday.
In Shenendehowa, where the district is attempting to mail over 28,000 ballots to residents, district officials said residents may not receive ballots until this weekend. The district established five drop-off sites for residents and established a way for residents physically unable to drive to those sites to instead call the district by Monday at 5 p.m. to make arrangements to have their ballots picked up.
“We recognize and share your frustration,” the district wrote to voters.
The Cobleskill-Richmondville schoool district was also affected by the delays and in a message to its community urged residents to “ignore the instructions on the ballot to return them by mail.” The message said residents should expect to receive their ballots Friday or Saturday and that there would “drive-thru ballot drop tents” on Friday, Saturday and Monday running from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Ryder Elementary campus. It also established drop-box sites.
“To ensure that every vote is counted, the district has made arrangements to receive ballots directly from voters,” the district wrote in its message.