Almost 100,000 Brooklyn voters might receive absentee ballots with someone else’s name on them, meaning their votes would not be counted, according to officials. The gobsmacking error is just one more concern thrown on a pile of worries about the unprecedented use of mail-in voting with barely a month to go before Election Day.
The New York City Board of Elections on Tuesday blamed a vendor’s single “print run” of ballots for potentially disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters. Rochester-based Phoenix Graphics is blamed for stamping the wrong name on “oath” return envelopes sent along with absentee ballots to voters across Brooklyn, NY1’s Courtney Gross reported. The ballots themselves contain no known errors.
People who requested to vote by mail first started getting their ballots and this week, and they immediately noticed something was wrong.
Here’s how the error could lead to votes being voided, per The City:
In the problem cases that emerged Monday, the official absentee ballot envelope contains the name, address — and presumably a specific identifying barcode — of a different person.
So if a voter did as instructed — filled out the ballot, signed it, placed it in the internal envelope and sent it to the Board of Elections — they would be effectively voting on behalf of someone else.
These votes would ultimately be voided because the signature is matched to whatever is on file.
It’s a two-step process: When the voter sends their ballot in, it would become identified by bar code as belonging to somebody else. The Board of Elections would then compare the signature and cancel the vote.
The city has already issued directions for voters to correct their error, with the crucial caveat that they not return their ballot:
Board of Elections Commissioner Mike Ryan said during a public meeting that an investigation found the problem so far is isolated to Brooklyn and that the vendor has since corrected its error. “Out of an abundance of caution” though, Ryan said everyone potentially affected will get a new ballot with an explanation for why tucked inside.
If that weren’t enough to worry about, the New York Post reports that adults in Queens who have never served in the military are receiving mail-in ballots that state “Official Military Absentee Ballot,” when they are supposed to say “Military/Absentee Ballot.”
Though the wording is officially a moot point — the city’s Board of Elections uses identical forms for military and absentee voters — the language suggests that the ballot is for military members who are not voting in person, leading to concerns that voters could discard them. “There’s just mass confusion about these ballots and what people are supposed to do with them,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer told the Post. “People were already not trusting this process and they were already not trusting the Board of Elections to count the ballot right.” Already, over 520,000 ballots have been mailed, though the Board of Elections did not clarify how many included the unclear labeling.
Five weeks out from the election, the issues in New York reveal just how troublesome the practical aspects of the pandemic election could be, as states rush to expand ballot access for voters who have mostly voted in person before this year. The above concerns only represent half the problem, as President Trump has admitted that he is blocking funding to the United States Postal Service to frustrate mail-in voting. “Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” he told Fox News last month. “But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
Primaries nationwide were also a preview of how many votes could be thrown out. In California — a state with universal mail-in access, which is therefore used to large numbers of mail-in voters — some 102,000 ballots were rejected in the primary in March. In New York City’s June primary, 84,000 ballots were thrown out, representing one in five voters who participated in the election.
As New York struggles with the fine details of no-excuse mail-in voting for the first time, significant numbers of discarded ballots could affect Democrats’ national pursuits — even if there’s no scenario in which tossed mail-in ballots result in Trump taking the Empire State’s electoral votes. If a six-figure or greater sum of votes that would overwhelming go to Joe Biden get thrown out in New York and other blue states, that could impact the Democrat’s popular-vote count, a mandate Democrats expect to leverage in case of a close Electoral College victory but a blowout popular-vote result. Obviously, such a disaster would be orders of magnitude worse if mail-in ballots were thrown out en masse in a swing state like Ohio, where one in 100 absentee ballots were not counted in its March primary.
This post has been updated throughout.