Watchdogs: State must increase funds for elections


ALBANY — Good-government advocates are pressing the Cuomo administration to pony up $50 million to help counties prepare for mammoth voter turnout for the Nov. 3 election pitting Democratic challenger Joe Biden against President Donald Trump.

While a string of New York polls suggest the state is not in play given the Democratic Party's statewide dominance, local and congressional races have injected drama into the proceedings in some regions.

Trump also has support through rural regions of upstate New York and carried most counties outside of the metropolitan New York City region in 2016.

One reason being cited for the projected increase in turnout is that New York voters can easily obtain an absentee ballot simply by signaling they have a temporary illness involving fear of contracting the coronavirus. In earlier years, voters had to be far more specific in providing a reason as to why they could not vote in person at a polling place.

In a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the government watchdogs said they are aware the state is dealing with a serious fiscal crisis.

"... But funding the state's democracy and supporting the safety and security of its elections must be prioritized ahead of the most consequential election in recent history," said the leaders of the organizations. Those groups included Reinvent Albany, Common Cause New York, League of Women Voters of New York, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Citizens Union.

They contend the funding is needed to help pay for personal protection equipment for poll workers, disinfectant supplies and postage for mailed notifications to voters explaining the various options: early voting, absentee ballots and voting on Election Day.

Contacted in Cooperstown, Lori Lehenbauer, the GOP elections commissioner for the Otsego County Board of Elections, said she has already detected intense interest from voters inquiring about absentee ballots and other aspects of the election now less than two months away.

The Otsego board has already fielded more than 3,000 applications for absentee ballots, she noted, adding: "We just did a mass mailing, telling voters how to apply for absentee ballots. So that is right at people's fingertips. They don't have to stop and figure it out themselves. They are reading it and acting on it right away."

In Albany, the Cuomo administration said the state is projecting a $62 billion revenue drop over the next four years and the elections boards should tap the millions of dollars already provided to them by the state and federal governments.

"In the absence of federal funding to offset this revenue loss, the state, which funds schools, hospitals, and public safety, will have to make spending reductions, and anywhere we don't reduce spending will mean deeper reductions elsewhere," said Freeman Klopott, spokesman for the Division of Budget.

Absentee ballots will be mailed to New Yorkers who have applied for them beginning Sept. 18. The applications must be postmarked no later than Oct. 27.

So far, 221,606 registered voters across the state, not including New York City and Erie County, have asked for absentee ballots via an online portal set up by the state Board of Elections, said John Conklin, a spokesman for the agency.

That is a brisk clip over the first week the applications could be submitted when matched against the pace of applications submitted four years ago. Then, elections boards processed more than 495,000 applications for absentee ballots over the entire period they were available.

Those ballots were returned by about 80 percent of the voters who received them, according to state data.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at

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