The processing of change of address forms at the Dutchess County Board of Elections is moving forward after a logjam and disagreement between the commissioners. But the commissioners agree that misinformation has spread regarding some of the facts. Meantime, a local activist and good government group are concerned.
The Democratic and Republican commissioners disagreed about procedure for change of address forms automatically sent to the Board of Elections from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Both acknowledge that forms started mounting, up to about 9,000. Democratic Elections Commissioner Marco Caviglia says the problem originated in fall of 2017 after the GOP commissioner refused to process the forms without signatures. Caviglia ultimately sent his counterpart a memo in May saying that accepting these forms without signatures was legal and mandatory per state policy.
“And I was contemplating and I think it was understood that I was going to next sue the other commissioner,” Caviglia says. “Then we had a communication with, a conference call with the state Board of Elections and that finally broke the logjam, and so now we’re in catchup mode.”
That call was at the beginning of August. GOP Commissioner Erik Haight says he had been reluctant to process a form new to him — it had been around in the ‘90s — without signatures, as he questioned the validity.
“Marco had agreed to the procedure that I sent to him as a proposal. I think I sent him over the procedure on or about June 20. He agreed or about August 1. The state Board called up on the 3rd or the 4th [of August]. We’d already started processing them,” Haight says. “Of the significant backlog that we had, there’s only about 225 actual address changes in that entire stack because most of them were duplicates.”
Caviglia confirms that about 2 percent of the backlog of up to 9,000 records are address changes to be processed.
“So as of yesterday morning, after about a week worth of work, speaking for the Democratic side of the house, we are current through February,” says Caviglia. “So we anticipate that we will be current well in time for the primaries and the publication of poll books and so forth.”
Haight also feels confident about catching up well in time.
“We did get through a significant stack of paperwork and we will have all the necessary address changes effectuated in our system well before August 24, which is the day we have to send the data to the printer for the poll book order for September 13,” says Haight.
Primary elections are September 13. Caroline Fenner is with the Dutchess County Progressive Action Alliance. Part of her activism includes urging people to register to vote. Fenner heard a rumor in July that there was a new voter registration backlog, a rumor squelched by Haight via email, saying the backlog was in DMV transfers for address changes. Fenner says Caviglia also responded to her inquiry, and said Haight refused to process the DMV transfers without signatures. Even with the issue seemingly resolved, Fenner is left dubious.
“Since they’ve been sit ting on this for over a year, I don’t have complete confidence that they will get those processed by August 24, which is the primary election deadline for address changes, and then October 17, which is the deadline for address changes before the November general election,” says Fenner. “So I’m very concerned, and I want proof that they’re actually processing these.”
Fenner says she took her concern to Common Cause New York, where Susan Lerner is executive director.
“And it illustrates why it’s such a problem that we have an election system that’s run by partisan political appointees because you have a Democratic and a Republican commissioner who don’t agree on anything, and it’s the voter who’s caught in the crossfire,” says Lerner.
“So the bottom line is that the issue is resolved, it will be resolved, and we’re catching up on the backlog,” Caviglia says. “Nobody’s going to be disenfranchised on Election Day during the primary and nobody’s going to be deprived of the right to vote.”
Both Fenner and Lerner question where Republican County Executive Marc Molinaro stands on the matter. Molinaro, who is running for governor, in a statement, says, “The Dutchess County Board of Elections is an independent office and does not report to the Executive Branch. Each voter is entitled to have his or her voice heard, and every eligible voter in Dutchess County should have the expectation of having their vote counted. We have been assured that will be the case, and expect the Board of Elections to follow through on its promise.”