Queens, N.Y., demonstrated how voters could be disenfranchised when mail-in ballots were used during a Democrat primary this summer. This statistic was consistent with an analysis done on mail-in votes nationwide between 2012 and 2018. It was also mirrored in municipal elections in Paterson, New Jersey.
All of these situations are a mix of voters failing to receive ballots, technical errors in filling out the ballots, or the post office failing to postmark the envelopes. Still, the New York City Board of Elections has started mass-mailing ballots for the November elections. It is already a mess.
The Gothamist is reporting that residents are receiving ballots with the wrong names or errors in other critical information:
The New York City Board of Elections has mailed out nearly half a million absentee ballots ahead of Election Day this November, as many New Yorkers are opting to vote by mail during the pandemic. Yet some voters are already reporting problems with their ballots that could invalidate someone’s vote if they aren’t caught in time.
Multiple voters in Brooklyn told Gothamist / WNYC that they have received a mislabeled “official absentee ballot envelope.” Normally, the voter inserts their completed ballot into the envelope and signs the outside. But in these cases, their ballot envelopes bear the wrong name and address. If a person signs their own name to this faulty ballot envelope, the ballot would be voided.
So far, voters in Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Carroll Gardens, Crown Heights, Clinton Hill, Bushwick, Flatbush, Brooklyn Heights, and Sunset Park have already reported the issue. More than 140,000 absentee ballots have gone out across the borough.
These errors added to the confusion of some civilian voters in the city receiving ballots marked for military use. According to the New York Post:
Voters in New York City have received mail-in ballots for the 2020 presidential election marked for military use despite never having served in the armed forces — causing confusion and concerns over whether the ballots can or should be used.
The misprint makes it appear that the voters received a “Official Military Absentee Ballot” instead of a “Military/Absentee Ballot,” leaving several borough residents who received the documents — including two Post journalists — worried that their votes might not be properly tallied.
The New York City Board of Elections has confirmed that the ballots are for absentee or military use, and these ballots are valid. A dash was meant to separate the words “absentee” and “military,” but was omitted by the printer.
The agency is also blaming a vendor for the wrong names and addresses on the return envelopes, saying the problem will be addressed in future mailings:
The Board of Elections said it was made aware of the problem on Saturday when a voter from Brooklyn Heights contacted them. Michael Ryan, the BOE’s executive director, attributed the problem to an error made by the vendor, Phoenix Graphics, who has been contracted to print and mail the ballots for voters in Brooklyn and Queens.
At this point, the BOE does not know how many voters may be affected or how it will remedy the problem. But Ryan said they will make sure the vendor addresses this problem in future mailings, and by determining the best way to make sure people who received erroneous envelopes receive new ones.
“We will ensure on behalf of the voters in Brooklyn that the proper ballots and ballot envelopes are in the hands of the voters in advance of Election Day so they can vote,” Ryan told Gothamist / WNYC. “This problem will get corrected,” he added.
And just yesterday, New Yorkers noted another issue. The mail-in ballots require postage. No one knows how much postage is required and some, like State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, are calling it voter suppression.
Primaries were pre-paid; the general is not (thanks @NYGovCuomo for forcing people to pay to exercise a fundamental right). You may need 2 stamps, but envelope makes it seem just 1 is needed. Does anyone know for sure? @BOENYC want to make sure we get the correct info for voters! https://t.co/DFm5eKgueZ pic.twitter.com/WxHlgtCjLm
— Adeline Medeiros (@adelinemedeiros) September 29, 2020
Governor Cuomo made this change after the Queens primary. The USPS does not typically postmark pre-paid envelopes. According to state election laws, mail-in ballots have to be postmarked by a specific date, and a missing postmark disqualifies the vote. While a federal court judge did readmit the thousands of affected ballots, the State Board of Elections appealed that decision. Given the current situation, the reason for the appeal is rather hysterical. According to the New York Daily News:
But, late Tuesday [August 4, 2020], the State Board of Elections commissioners announced they’re appealing the Torres decision.
“Given the totality of the circumstances here, we understand the desire to protect the rights of voters,” said commissioner and co-chair Douglas Kellner. “However, this will place a tremendous burden on the local boards of elections as they are preparing for the November general election and is highly unlikely to change the results in any contest.”
Yes, the State Board of Elections decided to appeal so that the New York City Board of Elections would have time to prepare for the November elections. Now the same borough, Queens, is a hot mess. Well done, everyone.
As the Gothamist points out, should people fail to get a corrected ballot, they will be eligible to vote in person. Hopefully, this will be an option for voters nationwide, as some states have decided to unnecessarily overhaul their election procedures in response to the pandemic. New York City may be the first hot mess, but it won’t be the last. And no one should be looking forward to endless election litigation.