ABSENTEE BALLOT CHAOS IN BROOKLYN

Pictures (with personally identifiable information redacted) of the external envelope (addressed to me) and the internal return envelope (with someone else’s name and address on it). Note also how the ballot itself (showing through the window on the external envelope) is labeled “Absentee Military Ballot.”

Last night, a neighbor called to say that she had received her absentee ballot in the mail—but when she opened up the envelope, the name on the return envelope was my husband’s, not hers. Hubby and I immediately opened up the ballots we had also received in yesterday’s mail, hoping it was a simple mix-up and that he had received her ballot. No such luck, however. He received the ballot for someone a couple of blocks away from us.  I received the ballot for a neighbor living five doors up the block.

It turns out, of course, that we are not the only ones to whom this has happened. There are reports of this happening widely in Brooklyn, though it is not yet clear if it has affected literally all of the absentee ballots sent out in the borough of Brooklyn, or only some of them.  Unfortunately, the New York City Board of Elections has a history of mismanaging elections. For example, in 2016 over 100,000 voters were illegally purged from the voter rolls.

The NYC Board of Elections blames the snafu on the Board’s vendor, Phoenix Graphics, a commercial printing company that was hired to send out absentee ballots in Brooklyn and Queens. However, today a BOE executive said the problem was isolated to Brooklyn alone. There is no word yet on whether the vendor is also to blame for the typo that labeled the ballots “Absentee Military Ballot” (instead of Absentee/Military), which is also causing confusion among voters.

Tweet from the New York City Board of Elections.

The Daily News is reporting that the 99,477 voters in Brooklyn who received flawed ballots will get a second mailing with the correct ballot, inner envelope and return envelope. That seems like an awfully precise number: how does the DOE know the number?

Possible Impact on the Election

I have been spending a lot of time volunteering to help get out the vote. Among other things, I have been sending out texts on behalf of various nonprofits around the country urging people who are concerned about in-person voting during a pandemic to apply for absentee ballots and to return them promptly.

Many people have expressed skepticism about using absentee ballots, although the grounds for skepticism have tended to differ based on party: Republicans have said voting by mail is inherently fraudulent (“as opposed to voting by absentee ballot” I’ve heard from more people than you’d think, even though voting by mail is the same thing as voting via absentee ballot), while Democrats have been disturbed by reports about how the U.S. Postal Service may be deliberately slowing down mail delivery in an effort to prevent absentee ballots from being counted. But I have tried to allay those fears. Postal Service issues aside, mail-in voting is actually more secure than in-person voting, since there is a paper trail (and bar codes on the ballot or return envelope) that would prevent people from voting twice.

However, in the Brooklyn scenario I see several dangers. The most obvious one, of course, is that people who did not receive their absentee ballots will simply not vote. In the midst of a dangerous pandemic, many people will decide (not unreasonably) that it is not worth putting their lives—or the lives of family members—at risk by voting in person.

But what if someone sends in an absentee ballot without noticing the wrong name on the return envelope? Presumably if that person tries to vote in person, their vote will be invalidated. Moreover, in theory, I could vote twice: once using the absentee ballot in someone else’s name (preventing them from voting later), and once in person in my own name.

This almost looks like a Russian-funded Republican plot to disrupt voting in the largest Democratic city in America, doesn’t it?

I voted via absentee ballot in the primary this year, and obviously was planning to do so in the general election as well. Due to our age and underlying health conditions, both my husband and I would be at risk of an ugly death were we to contract COVID-19. Waiting in line for hours with other humans inside the gym in our local elementary school just doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. There will be early voting available in New York starting on October 24, but even so there are likely to be large crowds.

Even with mail-in voting, I have been concerned about the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to deliver completed ballots in time, and I was planning on walking my completed ballot to the Board of Elections and submitting it personally (assuming the BOE has a secure process for receiving ballots). As a Democrat, I also know that my vote is unlikely to change Biden’s inevitable victory in New York. However, I refuse to be disenfranchised! I also think that even in New York, every vote counts in case there are Electoral College shenanigans—it needs to be clear and beyond doubt that Biden won the popular vote (by a landslide, I hope).

What Can You Do?

If you live in Brooklyn and you have also received the incorrect absentee ballot, there are a few things you can do:

  • Contact the Kings County Board of Elections at Apply4Absentee@boe.nyc, or call 718-797-8800, option 2, and they will send you a new ballot. (Email is better; nobody ever answered when I called the phone number.)
  • Please also contact Election Protection at (866-OUR-VOTE) and report that you received the wrong ballot. The more reports received, the clearer it will be that this is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed globally by the BOE. Election Protection is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.

What If This Happens Elsewhere?

Wherever you live, if you have applied for an absentee ballot, please check the ballot and return envelope carefully and make sure you have received the correct materials!

Go to https://866ourvote.org/state/ for election information for your state, including how to vote early where available.

Addendum

Both my husband and I were able to deliver the ballots we received to their rightful owners. And just after I initially posted this, a neighbor came by with my ballot. We have heard of other neighbors running around the neighborhood delivering misdirected ballots. How nice that people care enough to do this! It’s a bit of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy election season.

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