Oneida County faces possible lawsuit for violating voters’ rights
Last week, Oneida County Attorney Peter Rayhill was told by the United States Department of Justice that it’s planning on suing the county over voter disenfranchisement.
Rayhill said this follows a determination by New York State Supreme Court Judge Scott DelConte that found the county in violation of voters’ rights.
“He said, ‘it's not my place to do anything about that. Other people will have to look at it and decide what they want to do.’” said Rayhill.
Oneida County was recently the epicenter of the 22nd Congressional District race between Republican Representative Claudia Tenney and Democrat Anthony Brindisi in which Tenney won by a mere 109 votes.
So how were voters rights’ infringed on during election day? First, Rayhill said that over 2,000 voter registrations filed with the Department of Motor Vehicles didn’t get processed by Oneida County’s Board of Elections in a timely manner.
“And so on Election Day, those people were not on the books as registered voters, which is problematic,” he said.
If someone shows up at their polling site and there’s no record of their registration, they can request an affidavit ballot for the Board of Elections to determine their eligibility to vote in that district. So some people whose registrations weren’t processed in time tried that, but they were met with resistance.
“Some of those people were not given were turned away and not given affidavit ballots,” said Rayhill.
2020 was an unusual election year filled with fear of voter fraud and increased early voting and absentee ballots, making it infinitely more complicated for local boards of elections. However, Rayhill said that’s no excuse.
“It's a fundamental right of citizenship, that you will be allowed to participate in your government,” he said. “And when that is denied, it's an assault on, on our govern on our governance.”
Oneida County does plan to settle with the Department of Justice before a lawsuit is filed, starting with making improvements to their local Board of Elections.
“I certainly believe a significant number of their concerns of the federal government, the Department of Justice, are going to be addressed by the actions we're taking and have been taking since the election was concluded,” said Rayhill.