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March 6, 2009

DiNapoli Audit Recommends Stronger Oversight of
Absentee Voting by State Board of Elections

The State Board of Elections needs to strengthen its oversight of absentee voting in New York State after a state audit found that some counties accepted absentee ballots that should have been rejected, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“There is a stark lesson to be learned from disputed elections around the country,” DiNapoli said. “When you are responsible for producing and counting ballots in an election, it is imperative that you understand the rules and apply the rules consistently. Every voter should get a fair shot to cast their vote. At the same time the state board must protect the integrity of the process.”

State law allows a registered voter to request an absentee ballot from the local county board of elections when the voter is unable to appear at the voter’s regular polling place. If a voter’s request is accepted by the local board, a voter receives an absentee ballot. A ballot must be postmarked seven days before an election or delivered in-person the day before.

Auditors examined the oversight of absentee voting in the 2006 election and found the State Board of Elections has not monitored the practices of local boards related to absentee voting. While the state board does visit local county boards, it has no uniform procedures regarding what it reviews when on-site. Since 2001, the state board has not conducted any in-depth reviews of local boards; instead it has issued 15 follow-up reviews that examine the progress on reports that were completed in the early 1990s. None of these in-depth or follow-up reviews addressed absentee voting procedures.

Auditors assessed absentee voting practices in seven counties (Albany, Bronx, Dutchess, Rensselaer, Richmond, Seneca and Westchester) and found six of the seven counties accepted applications from voters that should have been rejected because they were incomplete or the voter was not registered to vote in that county. In total, auditors found 27 of a sample of 350 accepted applications that should have been rejected.

Auditors also found that only two of the seven counties (Dutchess and Westchester) updated their voter databases to indicate an inactive status of a voter when ballots were returned by the post office as undeliverable. Generally, ballots are returned because the address is incorrect or the individual is deceased or has moved. If corrections are not made to the county board’s database, ineligible voters could be allowed to vote and some individuals might be able to vote more than once in the same election.

The state board said reviews were conducted more frequently in the past but its current efforts are still focused on complying with the Help America Vote Act and certifying new voting systems. The state board did not dispute any of the findings of the audit and agreed to consider the auditors’ recommendations, which are detailed in the audit. The state board’s full response is included in the audit.

Government Accountability
The Office of the State Comptroller regularly audits state agencies, public authorities and New York City agencies. Auditors ensure that programs achieve their established goals, funds are used efficiently and assets are adequately protected against fraud, waste and abuse. DiNapoli’s office completes approximately 200 state audits annually and identifies hundreds of millions in savings and fraud each year.

Click here for a copy of the audit.



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