A pair of letters arrived at our house yesterday for my wife and I. They were identical in appearance and they came from the county Board of Elections. Inside we found an application for an absentee ballot and a letter from the BoE. This seemed rather odd since neither of us had applied for an absentee ballot, nor have we ever done so in the roughly quarter of a century that we’ve lived at this address. We always vote in person.

The reason soon became clear. New York State is going ahead with its primary election on June 23rd, but because of the pandemic, they will only have a limited number of polling places open. With that in mind, they are offering us the chance to mail in our ballots instead of having to mix it up with the crowds at our normal polling place. Fair enough, I suppose. You can see a copy of the letter here, but allow me to transcribe the introduction. (Emphasis in original)

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Dear Voter,

Our records indicate that you are registered in a party which is having a Primary Election on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. All voters are allowed to vote by absentee ballot for this Primary Election. Enclosed is an absentee ballot request form which is being sent pursuant to Executive Order 202.23 issued on April 24, 2020.
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Sounds normal enough so far, right? Except there’s one problem. While it may come as a surprise to some of you (though I know I’ve mentioned it in the past), I’m not a member of the Republican Party and I haven’t been for more than fifteen years. Nor am I a Democrat. I’m a member of the Conservative Party of New York State (CPNYS). It was formed in 1962 to act as a check on the New York GOP, which frequently skews far too much in the liberal direction if you don’t keep tabs on them.

But the most important thing to know about the CPNYS is that we don’t hold primary elections. Candidates for the Conservative Party line on the ballot are selected at a convention by committee members with input from party members. New York has closed primaries, so it is illegal for me to go and vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries. And yet the BoE just sent me a form basically daring me to try it.

Of course, the BoE might simply say that it couldn’t happen. If I tried to send in the ballot they would be able to see that I’m not enrolled in either party and toss the vote, possibly charging me with a crime in the process. Okay…if you say so. But how would you determine that… by checking your records? Would those be the same records that told you that I’m “registered in a party which is having a Primary Election on Tuesday, June 23, 2020?”

I’m half tempted to send in the application just as an experiment to see if I could get away with it. Of course, now that I’ve published this on our web site, they’d probably want to make an example out of me and I really don’t feel like taking a felony rap at this stage in my life just to prove a point.

Oh, and there’s one other significant issue with this letter and the attached ballot application. The first field to fill in on the application requires you to give a reason “in good faith” as to why you need an absentee ballot. You have to provide a valid reason and they offer you five possible choices. These involve being out of town on election day, temporary illness, permanent disability, being a caregiver of a disabled person, being a resident of a VA hospital or being in prison. Let’s return to the next instruction I received in that letter.

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“For concerns regarding COVID-19 and Social Distancing, please select the “Temporary Illness” option on the application as the reason for requesting an absentee ballot.”
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Neither my wife nor myself currently suffer from COVID-19 nor do we believe that we’ve ever been exposed to it thus far. (Thank God for small favors.) Nor are we suffering from any other notable medical issues at present. But this letter just instructed us to check a box saying we have a temporary illness or physical disability. And on the back of that form, the first sentence in the “Instructions” section includes the following: “It is a felony to make a false statement in an application for an absentee ballot, to attempt to cast an illegal ballot, or to help anyone to cast an illegal ballot.”

And yet the BoE is inviting me to make a false statement right a the top of the form and send it in. Look… I’m sure nobody is going to be prosecuted for this, but one thing seems clear. These letters were obviously mailed out to pretty much everyone, dead or alive, whose name shows up somewhere on the voter rolls. And they clearly don’t have it broken down by party. The idea that nobody who isn’t enrolled would try to obtain a ballot and send it in seems ludicrous. And it’s pretty obvious that they don’t have a way to quickly or efficiently check all of the returned forms to ensure that everyone is enrolled as a member of the party holding the primary and following the rules.