Fraud Charges Fly Both Ways in Congress Race

First District road signs are just one battleground between incumbent Representative Lee Zeldin and Perry Gershon. David E. Rattray

The race to represent New York’s First Congressional District was roiled by accusations of fraud by both candidates this week, with mailings sent to voters being at the heart of dual controversies. 

Representative Lee Zeldin, the Republican incumbent who is seeking a third term, and Perry Gershon, his Democratic challenger, both called for investigations into what they charge are attempts to defraud voters. 

Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 5, which is one day before Election Day. The Zeldin campaign, however, sent a mailer last week advising voters to exercise their right to vote “by completing your requested absentee ballot and postmarking it by November 6th.” Absentee ballots postmarked after Nov. 5, however, would be disqualified. 

An identical situation occurred during Mr. Zeldin’s 2016 re-election campaign, when a mailer referenced a deadline one day later than the actual deadline for absentee ballots to have been postmarked. In that campaign, Mr. Zeldin easily prevailed in a race against former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. 

Mr. Gershon, who lives in East Hampton, pounced on the mailing. “The Department of Justice needs toˇinvestigate what is clearly an attempt to defraud the voters of Suffolk County,” he said in a statement. “The fact that this has happened two elections in a row is not a coincidence, and it’s not a mistake. It’s an irresponsible, anti-democratic strategy of deliberate deception.” He accused Mr. Zeldin of “resorting to desperate suppression tactics to try to save his floundering campaign.” 

Chris Boyle, a spokesman for Mr. Zeldin’s campaign, dismissed Mr. Gershon’s remarks, blaming the document’s incorrect date on an error by the printer, PDQ Print and Mail of Bohemia. An email from Mr. Boyle included a quote from PDQ’s owner, Scott Nordin. “Unfortunately in a printing error, the absentee ballot mail piece sent out for Lee Zeldin last week had a mistake in the date absentee ballots need to be postmarked by. The Zeldin Campaign had sent and approved the piece with November 5th (the correct date) but in a printing error, the wrong file was printed. A new run with the corrected date was then immediately sent back out.”

Mr. Boyle added that the Zeldin campaign realized the error before going to print and updated the proof, but the printer had accidentally used the version that included the incorrect date. “A follow-up mail piece was immediately sent to the same recipients that accurately only had the November 5th date on both sides,” he said. Emails, Facebook ads, and the campaign’s website landing page had always referenced the correct date, he said. “We absolutely want everyone to be completely aware that the date to postmark absentee ballots is November 5th.”

Asked about the identical incident that occurred in 2016, Mr. Boyle said that he could not answer as he was not with the campaign at the time, and that “this issue just now became a non-issue instantly because it was completely corrected by our campaign immediately.” He said that most of the incorrect mailer’s recipients were not Democrats. He did not respond to a follow-up question, in an email sent on Tuesday, asking to whom the incorrect mailer had been sent and how its list of recipients had been determined. 

Late on Tuesday, Mr. Zeldin’s campaign charged that voters in historically Republican areas of the district had been sent absentee ballots that did not include Mr. Zeldin’s name. An email from the campaign included an attached image of an absentee ballot mailed to a voter in Nissequogue, in the Town of Smithtown, that lists the Third Congressional District’s candidates, and not the First.

In a statement, Mr. Zeldin called for “an immediate investigation into who is responsible for this Republican voter suppression targeting the most highly saturated concentration of Republican voters in the First Congressional District.” Neither Mr. Zeldin nor Mr. Gershon appears on the ballot. 

“I want to know how this happened, who is responsible for this happening, why this happened, and how this will be fixed instantly,” he said. “On behalf of all impacted absentee ballot applicants, I’m demanding immediate answers from leadership at the Suffolk Board of Elections. All recipients must be notified immediately not to fill out the inaccurate absentee ballot and new ballots must be mailed out to these individuals tomorrow.” 

With respect to his campaign’s mailer that included the incorrect date, Mr. Zeldin charged that Mr. Gershon was “trying to manufacture a crisis out of something that was already completely resolved,” and that he hoped his opponent “would be just as fired up over actual voter suppression that is very much unresolved, real, and highly problematic.”

Mr. Gershon also said he wanted answers. In an email to The Star yesterday, he said, “This is a nonpartisan issue.

Democrats and Republicans received absentee ballots from the Suffolk County Board of Elections. I want to know how this happened, who is responsible for this happening, why this happened, and how this will be fixed forthwith.”

He again accused Mr. Zeldin of fraud. “When added to Lee Zeldin’s attempts to suppress votes by sending mailers with the wrong mail-by date, it’s a reminder that Americans too often take for granted the privilege of free and fair elections,” he said. “Our government should be protecting our right to choose representatives who will work for us in Washington — not sending out ballots containing the names of candidates running in a different district.”

Less than two weeks before Election Day, the Cook Political Report has the race in its “likely Republican” column, and the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ website put the race in its “leans Republican” column. A New York Times poll conducted between Oct. 4 and 8 gave Mr. Zeldin a 49-to-41-percent lead. 

The candidates will debate on Monday at 7 p.m. at Hampton Bays High School.