As demand for absentee mail-in ballots increases so do the errors that can influence election outcomes.
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, Sunset Park, Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Fort Greene have already reported the issue. More than 140,000 absentee ballots have gone out across the borough.
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.
Also received an envelope with someone else’s name. I spoke to someone at the Brooklyn office who genuinely sounded shocked and panicked when I told her the issue. I was rushed off the phone
— John DePasquale (@johndepasquale_) September 28, 2020
Park Slope resident Jeremy Klopman applied for his absentee ballot on September 1st and regularly checked the absentee ballot tracker to see when it would be mailed. Klopman, a psychiatrist who works from home and chose to vote by absentee ballot for health reasons, said his ballot arrived Monday afternoon. But when he opened it, the wrong name and address were printed on the official absentee ballot envelope. He said he noticed the problem when he went to sign it.
Klopman said he has been trying to contact the city BOE to figure out a solution. When Gothamist / WNYC called the 1-866-VOTE-NYC hotline on Monday afternoon, there were 79 callers ahead of us.
Klopman said he was excited to vote, and that he found this issue distressing, not because he thought it would change the results in a place as Democratic as Park Slope. He said he’s more worried about how something like this could chip away at people’s faith in voting by mail in places where the contests might be closer.
“My heart just started sinking because I’m sitting there thinking, if they sent out half a million ballots already to the wrong place, that’s going to cause a huge problem to claw them all back,” Klopman said. “There’s definitely a sinking feeling.”
So far, the BOE has not received reports about misprinted ballot envelopes in any other boroughs. (The BOE also acknowledged that there was a design flaw on the absentee ballots, where a slash was left off between the words “absentee” and “military,” but that will not have any impact on whether a vote is counted.)
The error with the absentee ballot envelopes has much bigger implications because an untold number of voters could be disenfranchised if the BOE doesn’t intervene in time.
Mike Munger who lives on the edge of Carroll Gardens also received a misprinted absentee envelope. But he knew the person’s partner and decided to walk over and give them the envelope in the off-chance that they might have received his. That was not the case. Munger said he also tried to contact the Board by calling 1-866-VOTE-NYC, but the number was out of service. Now he plans to vote in person during early voting, which runs from October 24th through November 1st.
Voters who received the botched ballots can always choose to vote in person—either during the early voting period or on Election Day.
Katie Bishop, a producer at WNYC, also received a misprinted absentee ballot, when she and her husband received their absentee ballots on Monday. Her ballot contained an inner envelope addressed to her husband and her husband received an inner envelope addressed to a nearby neighbor.
“I’m really glad I was paying attention because I’m not sure I would have caught this if I wasn’t trying to be careful,” Bishop said.
“Look, this is a stupid error, but there is time to get it fixed,” said Susan Lerner, head of the voting rights and good government group Common Cause New York. “There is time to get it fixed and that’s what people need to know. If you check your envelope and it’s the wrong name, call the Board immediately,” she said.
If you have received an absentee ballot with errors on it, the city Board of Elections says you should reach out to them via email at [email protected] or call 1-866-VOTE-NYC. In the meantime, Ryan said the Board will be working with the vendor to ensure all impacted voters are identified.
Two election lawyers who have successfully tried two federal election law cases this summer said they have been contacted by voters in Brooklyn about this issue.
“If a plan to resolve this is not made within 24 hours, we will see the Board of Elections in federal court yet again,” said Ali Najmi, an election lawyer who successfully sued the New York State Board Board of Elections and the United States Postal Service in two separate lawsuits this summer, along with his co-counsel J. Remy Green. He added, “If left unresolved, this will disenfranchise potentially thousands of voters—this must be fixed.”
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