A Rensselaer County elections official was arraigned on Tuesday, accused by federal authorities of fraudulently obtaining absentee ballots last year and using voters’ personal information without their consent.
The indictment of Jason Schofield, a Republican elections commissioner, emerged from a lengthy federal inquiry into potential ballot fraud across Rensselaer County, just east of Albany.
The indictment accused Mr. Schofield or an employee acting at his direction of using an online portal to apply for absentee ballots on behalf of at least eight people in 2021 when county elections were being held for Rensselaer county executive, clerk, and legislature, as well as for the mayor of the City of Rensselaer and the Troy City Council.
The charging papers contain details on four of those absentee ballots prosecutors say Mr. Schofield obtained. Mr. Schofield did not “ask or permit” the voters to weigh in other than to have them sign the back of the ballots — which would have allowed him to fill them out himself. The ballots were then returned to the Rensselaer County Board of Elections for processing.
Mr. Schofield, prosecutors said, requested ballots on behalf of people who “had no interest in voting, absentee or otherwise,” and did not request his help with voting. Some did not know that he had used their personal information.
The ballots were requested by Mr. Schofield on at least five dates spanning from May to October of 2021, the indictment says, during a period when voters were able to request absentee ballots online because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. In a few of the instances, Mr. Schofield obtained the ballots in such a way that they would appear to have been delivered to the voters by mail.
The Albany Times Union first reported the charges, which had previously reported that Mr. Schofield was the subject of an ongoing F.B.I. investigation.
That inquiry came to light following an earlier federal investigation centered on a former Troy city councilwoman, Kimberly Ashe-McPherson, The Times Union reported.
Ms. Ashe-McPherson, a Republican, cast three absentee ballots using names other than her own. According to news reports at the time, she had received guidance from an unnamed official at the Rensselaer County Board of Elections.
Ms. Ashe-McPherson resigned after pleading guilty to federal identity theft charges for casting votes in other people’s names.
Mr. Schofield faces 12 felony counts of unlawfully possessing and using a means of identification. If convicted, he could see a prison term of up to five years and a fine as high as $250,000 on each count. He has pleaded not guilty.
“Mr. Schofield maintains his innocence and will continue to fight the case,” his lawyer, Danielle Neroni, said in a statement.
Mr. Schofield was the president of the Board of Education in Troy before he resigned in 2018 to become an elections commissioner.
In June 2021, one month after Mr. Schofield is first accused of having fraudulently requested absentee ballots, the New York attorney general, Letitia James, sued Rensselaer County and its elections commissioners for failing to designate sufficient, accessible early voting sites in Troy, where many of the county’s voters of color reside. A judge ordered the county to find more accessible sites, which was later upheld by the Appellate Division.
“Despite the availability of potential early voting sites in Troy — the most densely populated area of the county — B.O.E. and its commissioners repeatedly refused to select an early voting site that was easily accessible to Troy residents, where the majority of the county’s Black, Hispanic, and lower-income communities reside,” according to a news release from Ms. James’s office.
Mr. Schofield was arraigned on Tuesday in the Northern District of New York before Magistrate Judge Daniel J. Stewart and released on his own recognizance.