The National Republican Congressional Committee wants you to file an in-person absentee ballot for Daniel Donovan—even if you’re going to be around for the May 5 special election.
The organization, charged with getting GOP candidates elected to the House of Representatives, has spent $10,000 on online ads and even a Facebook page—all captioned “Paid for by NRCC and Authorized by Donovan for Congress”—urging residents of New York’s 11th Congressional District to “vote early” for Mr. Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney seeking the vacant seat representing his home borough and parts of Brooklyn.
The problem? New York is not one of the 32 states allowing regular voters to cast ballots before Election Day—and the NRCC told the Observer their real intention is to encourage voters to go to their borough’s Board of Elections office and claim they qualify for an absentee ballot.
“You’re filling out an affidavit on penalty of perjury that the information is in fact correct,” BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan told the Observer. “We strongly encourage anyone filling out an absentee ballot application to be truthful.”
New York election law allows people who anticipate being out of town, are suffering from an illness or disability, who are caring for a person with an illness or disability, are laid up in a Veteran’s Administration hospital, are in jail awaiting trial or sentencing or are in prison for a non-felony offense to obtain an absentee ballot in person at their county’s Board of Elections office up to and even on Election Day—and requires them to sign an application in good faith that they are in one of those specific situations. Mr. Ryan, however, admitted that absentee balloting works essentially on the honor system, and the regulations are essentially unenforceable.
“We do not have either the inclination or the resources to follow voters around on Election Day,” he told the Observer. “It’s really, ultimately, relying on you and your conscience.”
The NRCC noted it enjoyed great success getting its supporters to vote early in last year’s congressional elections, and claimed its attorneys had reviewed New York’s statutes and were confident the campaign was not encouraging voter fraud.
“We reviewed all applicable rules and constructed the advertisement in accordance with that review,” spokesman Ian Prior told the Observer. “If you’re unable to vote on Election Day, for whatever reason that is permissible, you can vote early.”
Mr. Ryan said his office had found no evidence of criminal activity, and suggested that the advertisements were simply the result of lack of oversight by the NRCC and Mr. Donovan’s camp.
“Perhaps some more due care should have been exercised by the national organization in communication with the local campaign not to do something that would possibly undermine the campaign,” Mr. Ryan said.
Oddly, the banner ads make no mention of obtaining an absentee ballot, and the site they link to only allows voters to enter their zip code, and then gives the address of either the Kings or Richmond County Board of Elections office. It is unclear how a voter unaware of New York’s lack of early voting or of absentee ballots would know what to do once they arrived at their local BOE post.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Donovan confirmed that the campaign had approved the outreach effort, but said it had requested the NRCC to adjust the advertisements to be sure they reflected New York’s voting regulations.
“There are a multitude of reasons a registered voter can vote in-person or by mail prior to the scheduled date of an election. In an effort to make things more convenient for voters, we’ve asked the NRCC to clarify the language for those that may be unaware of their voting rights,” said Jessica Proud, adding a jab at Mr. Donovan’s Democratic opponent, Brooklyn Councilman Vincent Gentile. “We would hope the Gentile campaign would want to encourage voter participation as much as we do.”
Mr. Donovan is heavily favored to win on Tuesday and the NRCC’s counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has not given any support to Mr. Gentile’s campaign.