Viewpoint: Ballot harvesting allowed in Great Neck Park

Karen Rubin

The reason why former President Trump seems to refuse to believe he lost the 2020 election is because he rigged it – as we are finding out daily – but all the mechanisms he used simply weren’t enough to do what worked for him in 2016.

And the mechanism he focused on most were the mail-in-ballots because rules were made to accommodate the historic global pandemic that had already killed 300,000 Americans by Election Day. Despite sending his agent, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service, Trump lost the election that still produced turnout of about 66 percent – highest in decades.

Trump and his supporters equated all mail-in ballots with “voter fraud” – assailing what is known as “ballot harvesting” – where a candidate literally goes out and collects the absentee ballots, often by the hundreds or thousands.

New York State has been extremely restrictive in its use of absentee ballots (as well as having no early voting at all), which is why New York had had some of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. That is, until the coronavirus pandemic, when New York recognized a concern for contracting COVID as a reason to obtain an absentee ballot – contributing to strong turnout numbers. As a result, New York attempted to make “no-excuse” absentee voting permanent, but in the 2021 Republican wave, the measure was defeated.

The state’s restrictions against the use of absentee ballots have been even more onerous for special district elections, like the Great Neck Park District, effectively disenfranchising even doctors or nurses working at North Shore Hospital whose shifts did not allow them to vote in person between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. because they were in-district. But those rules were tossed aside this election cycle because of COVID-19.

Ironically, this opened the floodgates to literal ballot harvesting and also questions about election integrity.

There are 2,868 names on the list of “disabled and absentee” voters. All but a few were issued and all but a few hundred delivered directly to candidate Vanessa Tamari and all but a few beyond that returned by Tamari (the victor out of a field of five candidates) to the park office.

A total 1,102 of Tamari’s 1,803 votes (including 713 out of the 1,135 votes she garnered in Kings Point and 256 out of 449 in Great Neck) were cast by absentee ballot. This compares to 546 absentee ballots out of 1,121 votes for Dorothy Feng, the next highest vote-getter (notably, none of the absentee ballots were actually picked up or delivered by Feng).

We spoke to one fellow who said he never votes in the park election, but Tamari showed up at his door, offered him the application for mail-in ballot, returned with the ballot and waited for him to fill it out, so she could deliver it for him. (He said he had been undecided before.)

This is the definition of “ballot harvesting,” which the Republican National Committee called an “obvious threat to our nation’s elections.”  The RNC added, “Republicans remain committed to outlawing this sinister practice.”

While there are triple layers of security in the general election to confirm the identity of voters who send in their ballot by mail and to ensure their vote is counted only once, there are no such security mechanisms in place for the Great Neck Park District. The Park District gets its voter books from the Nassau County Board of Elections, but unlike the general election, these books did not contain the voter’s signature in order to compare it with the voter who signs when they vote in person or significantly to compare against the mail-in-ballot envelope.

“GNPD’s election workers are not investigators, advocates, judges or juries. Their duty is to ascertain whether a voter appears qualified to vote based upon the limited information legally available to election workers during an election,” Chris Prior, attorney for the park district, said in a written response to a series of questions.

Also troubling is the extraordinary discretion that election workers have to accept or deny an absentee ballot – a tactic being used to allow partisans control over who and how votes are counted and if they are counted at all.

My question as to how many of the park district absentee ballots were rejected for some error or because the person voted in person was not answered. Nor was my question about whether all the ballots and in-person votes were counted against the actual total.

The Trumpers have been crusading to question election integrity for years – Trump elevated it in 2016 when he said he would only accept the results of an election he won and demonstrated that in 2020 – and Republicans have been using this battle cry of “voter fraud” to advance voter suppression.

But this is a strategy, like gaming the ref, forcing Democrats to accept even narrow losses where they were expected to win as in Nassau County and North Hempstead without calling for a recount or audit.

The New York State Senate just passed a measure aimed at improving access to the ballot- expanding absentee-ballot drop-off locations, making it easier to vote at a second residence and expanding early voting locations. Another bill in committee would make ballot harvesting illegal.

This would benefit all New Yorkers, but echoing the Republicans in Washington, state Republicans are assailing the measures. “Dems think such measures will lead to more votes for them, cementing their hold on political offices long into the future. They simply don’t care if those votes are cast illegally, say, by people mailing or dropping off absentee ballots on behalf of others (harvesting).”

Prohibiting ballot harvesting and bolstering the election integrity should not be excuses for laws aimed at putting obstacles in front of voters or exposing elections to actual subversion. Republicans like to charge that “voter fraud” robs them of their vote. But the raft of voter suppression and election subversion laws sweeping the country not only give unequal voice to some while suppressing others, but nullify the votes in whole states, including New York.

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Karen Rubin

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