Two years ago, a Manhattan resident, Louis Koch, asked the New York City Board of Elections to mail him absentee ballots for the primary and general elections for 2020, the authorities said.
He didn’t stop there.
Since then, mr. Koch has obtained well over 100 absentee ballots in the names of other people, including politicians, journalists and lawyers, without their permission, according to a criminal complaint filed in Federal District Court.
But despite ordering all of those ballots, Mr. Koch never cast them in an election. He told FBI agents who interviewed him last month that he collected the ballots “as a hobby,” the complaint said.
The hobby may become an expensive one: Mr. Koch, 39, was arrested on July 8 and charged with using false information in voting and identity theft. He was released on a $250,000 bond, pending further legal proceedings.
The judgment comes as allegations of election fraud continue to polarize American politics, with false claims spread by former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters. Studies show genuine election fraud is extremely rare in the United States.
Even if Mr. Koch’s alleged aim was not to sway an election as opposed to feeding a somewhat unconventional quest for celebrity ballots, it suggests a flaw in the way absentee ballots are made available in New York.
According to the complaint, Mr. Koch applied for the absentee ballots by entering his victims’ names, dates of birth, counties of residence and ZIP codes into the elections board’s website. He then directed that the ballots be mailed to his apartment in Manhattan and a family house in Tenafly, NJ, the complaint said.
Under the board’s current system, the complaint said, a potential voter can have an absentee ballot sent to an address other than the requester’s as long as they provide the voter’s personal identifying information.
In late May, the complaint said, absentee ballots for several current and former politicians from New York were requested from the board, and sent to Mr. Koch’s Manhattan and Tenafly addresses.
The elections board, in reviewing its records, identified at least 95 additional absentee ballot requests in the last week of May, which had been submitted in the names of other people, including “recognizable politicians, media personalities and lawyers,” the complaint said.
Vincent M. Ignizio, the deputy executive director of the elections board, said Mr. Koch’s activities were detected in early June. The campaign of a sitting state official who was running for re-election told the board that the candidate’s name had been found on a list of people who had requested absentee ballots.
But the candidate had not requested one, Mr. Ignizio said. Authorities have not publicly identified the people in whose names prosecutors said Mr. Koch obtained the ballots.
The board began investigating, he said, and turned over its findings to the US attorney’s office in Manhattan.
“We take ballot security very seriously,” Mr. Ignizio said. “We’re proud we uncovered a potential vulnerability and we’ll continue to tighten up the process in order to ensure that security is paramount.”
On June 30, the FBI conducted searches of Mr. Koch’s addresses, the complaint said. In his Manhattan apartment, agents found more than 100 absentee ballots in the names of other people, which had been issued by New York, California and Washington, DC, for various elections, including the June 28 New York primary.
At the Tenafly residence, agents searched Mr. Koch’s childhood bedroom, and seized additional such ballots, the complaint said.
The number of absentee ballots cast in New York City has varied in recent years, reaching nearly 684,000 in the November 2020 general election, in which President Biden defeated Mr. Trump; and dipping to 83,000 in the general election a year later, when Eric Adams was elected mayor.
mr. Ignizio said that the board’s investigation found that none of the absentee ballots Koch was said to have obtained in the names of other people were cast in any election. Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office, declined to comment. mr. Koch is registered as a Democrat, according to a public record of the elections board.
mr. Koch’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment on his client’s behalf. mr. Koch had no comment, a family member said.
According to the complaint, Mr. Koch, after waiving his Miranda rights, told the FBI agents that he had been ordering ballots in other people’s names since at least 2020, using personal identifying information he obtained from public sources.
At one point last year, he said, a relative living in the Tenafly house who was aware he had been obtaining the ballots advised him to stop, according to the complaint.
“Koch understood it was ‘foolish’ to continue ordering ballots, but he continued doing it anyway,” the complaint said.
When US Magistrate Judge Valerie Figueredo agreed to release Mr. Koch on bail, she imposed several conditions, including one tailored to the allegations in his case.
He could not order absentee ballots for himself or anyone else — for any national, state or local election.
Alain Delaqueriere contributed research.