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Albany inaction means two waves of ballots to overseas voters

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Elections officials in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties met the deadline to send out absentee ballots to military members who wish to vote in the Nov. 6 congressional and presidential elections.

But they’ll have to go through the same process again, with a separate ballot, so that the soldiers, sailors, Marines and other armed services members can vote in local elections. That will cost elections officials money and time.

In Jefferson County, officials sent out 158 absentee ballots for military members and will send out at least 158 more to the same voters for local races. In St. Lawrence County, the figure was 100. In Lewis County, it was 40.

Each ballot costs $1.40 to produce, plus the cost of postage, according to Jennie Bacon, the St. Lawrence County Democratic elections commissioner. That doesn’t include the hours it will take to produce a second set of ballots and then to count them in three ways: one version with just the presidential and congressional elections, one version with state and local races and a version with both.

The double dose of absentee ballots stems from the state Legislature’s failure to agree on a primary date. A new federal law mandated that absentee ballots be sent to overseas military voters 45 days before an election to make sure they have enough time to send them back. So New York had to move its primary for federal offices from early September, and a federal judge chose June 26.

But neither the law on sending ballots a month and a half in advance nor the date change for the primary applied to state and local races, which were held Sept. 13. And the general-election ballots for state and local races weren’t certified in time to meet the 45-day requirement. The state still has to live by a 32-day requirement, meaning absentee ballots for military members must be mailed by Oct. 5.

Jerry O. Eaton, the Jefferson County Republican elections commissioner and head of the statewide Election Commissioners Association, said that there was a risk the state and local absentee ballots won’t be able to be returned in time for counting, but that Jefferson County would try to send them earlier than the Oct. 5 deadline.

“There is the possibility” of late ballots, Mr. Eaton said. “But it’s likely (Jefferson County) will be mailing state and local absentees before 32 days.”

Voters can request absentee ballots until Oct. 30, but military members who are overseas should apply sooner than that to make sure their votes are counted. The Board of Elections is working to make sure military members understand that they’re not being sent the same absentee ballot twice, but that they have to fill out both and put them in separate envelopes for them to be counted.

On the first set of ballots, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, faces former Republican Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. For the House of Representatives seat in the north country, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, has a rematch with Republican Matthew A. Doheny of Watertown. U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat, opposes Republican attorney Wendy Long of Manhattan.

There are scores of local races in the three counties for positions such as town justice and Town Council. There also are three contested state legislative races. Assemblywoman Janet L. Duprey, R-Peru, takes on Timothy R. Carpenter, a Democratic city councilman in Plattsburgh, and Conservative Party candidate Karen M. Bisso, a Plattsburgh special education teacher. State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, hopes to defeat Oswego County Legislator Amy M. Tresidder, D-Oswego. And Assemblyman Marc W. Butler, R-Newport, seeks re-election against Joseph Chilelli, a Herkimer County Democrat.

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