Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

It’s Down to One Week

Posted in Barack Obama by allisonkilkenny on October 28, 2008
Courts are packed with cases of people whose voter registrations aren’t on file for some reason.
By RICK KARLIN, Capitol bureau
A dramatic presidential race has prompted voter registration drives nationwide, and New York is no exception. Everyone expects long lines at the voting booth on Nov. 4

But first comes a different kind of crunch: Local courts already are seeing an influx of people who, for whatever reason, are not listed as registered voters and are petitioning a judge to be enrolled.

While county boards of election typically have judges available on Election Day to rule on such cases, voters this year are heading to court days or even weeks ahead of time.

In Saratoga County, they’ve even set aside mornings to settle registration disputes.

“We’re letting them come in from 8:30 a.m. to noon,” said Saratoga County Judge Jerry Scarano. “We think election day is going to be very busy.”

“They’re being swamped,” agreed Michael Guiry, a retiree who this year moved back to Edinburgh, in Saratoga County, from Florida to be near his family.

Guiry and his wife registered to vote when they got their New York driver’s licenses, but when Guiry applied for a hunting license a few weeks ago and double-checked his voter status, he wasn’t listed. So he drove to Saratoga for a hearing before Scarano, who put him on the voter rolls.

“We have to go after school,” said Jean Harsen of Kinderhook, who plans to take her 18-year-old son, Johnathan, to Columbia County Court this week.

Harsen said Johnathan registered at a booth set up by Barack Obama supporters at the Columbia County Fair, but the county Board of Elections never got his registration.

There are lots of reasons why registrations don’t show up: Sometimes they’re simply lost, or the people running the voting drives forget to turn them in.

“It’s incumbent upon the people who are doing these drives to bring these forms in,” said Geeta Cheddie, acting election commissioner in Columbia County.

She recounted several stories in which people claimed they had sent in registration cards, but after double-checking realized they hadn’t – or had misplaced the cards altogether.

Geddie said she wasn’t sure what happened with Harsen’s registration.

“The courts are always a recourse,” she said, adding that she’s already referred a few unregistered people to the courthouse in Hudson.

Nor is it the presidential race alone that’s sparking the increase in court visits.

The state Board of Elections last year put registration lists online so that voters can check their status. But even that good work has been complicated by the fact that the state board in Albany was swamped last month with thousands of mail-in registration cards that people printed out from the Web site of Rock the Vote, a nationwide campaign to boost voting by young people.

Normally, individuals register at their local county board of elections, since those are the official repositories for voter rolls. But Rock the Vote had people send registrations to the state, which is required to accept all received before the Oct. 15 deadline. The state office was then obliged to sort and send the cards to the individual counties.

“Every day we would send out a shipment to each county,” said state Board of Elections spokesman Bob Brehm.

The upshot was that registrations may have been in the mail, but they weren’t yet listed on the Web site – creating another reason for nervous voters to head for the courts.

Election lawyer Henry Berger said many voters are figuring they can avoid Election Day hassles by going to court in advance if they have doubts about their registration status.

“Some people are getting more sophisticated about this. They are going in early,” he said.

Rick Karlin can be reached at 454-5758 or rkarlin@timesunion.com

To check your voter registration status, visit the state Board of Elections Web site at http://www.elections.state.ny.us

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