Mail-in voting has gotten off to a rocky start in New York City, where election officials sent out a large number of absentee ballots with the wrong names and addresses on the return envelopes.
The faulty ballots were sent to an unknown number of voters in Brooklyn and could result in ballots being voided if voters sign their own name on return envelopes bearing different names. More than 140,000 ballots have already been sent out so far across the borough. It was unclear how many people got the wrong envelopes.
The New York City Board of Elections blamed the problem on the Rochester-based vendor hired to print and mail the ballots for voters in Brooklyn and Queens.
The faulty ballots are limited to just “one print run” of ballots sent out to Brooklyn voters, the board’s director Michael Ryan said at a Tuesday board meeting. He didn’t say how many ballots were printed in that run, but said the vendor said the error “has been caught and corrected moving forward.”
All voters potentially impacted by the error will receive new reprinted ballots and envelopes before the Nov. 3 election from the vendor – which will cover the cost, Ryan said. He said the move will “make certain that absolutely no disenfranchisement occurs in the borough of Brooklyn.”
But it’s unclear exactly how the city will handle voters who had already mailed their completed ballot back in the provided envelopes.
Ryan said elections workers will reach out to voters by social media and, if available, by telephone and email addresses. And he said the board will ensure all received ballots are “appropriately processed” and tallied votes are “properly credited” to voters.
“It is essential that confidence be established on this process and that we make certain we have all the voters who potentially have a problem have a full and fair opportunity to remedy that problem,” Ryan said.
A message seeking comment was sent to the printer the city blamed for the error, Phoenix Graphics.
The Rochester-based printing company, which was founded in 1985 and calls itself the state’s largest supplier of ballot materials, is urging those who call its offices about absentee ballot issues to contact their local board of election.
“Phoenix Graphics is working hard with your board of elections to ensure that everyone will have what they need to vote,” says the company’s voicemail message.
Meanwhile, the city elections board was also dealing with confusion regarding another printing anomaly on absentee ballots.
Ordinarily, absentee ballots in the city are sent out with a heading identifying them as an “Official Absentee / Military Ballot.” This year, the slash between “absentee” and “military” was left out, leading some voters to believe they had mistakenly been mailed a ballot for use only by members of the military.
The board tweeted that the ballot was still good for use by any registered voter.
The pair of mishaps took place despite intense scrutiny of mail-in voting nationwide. And it comes on the heels of a rocky spring primary in New York in which election boards struggled to handle a record amount of voting by mail.
The city’s Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said the city’s board of elections has again failed to ensure a “smooth, stable, secure election” and called for an investigation and possibly replacement of the vendor.
Marla Garfield, a 46 year-old editor who lives in Park Slope in Brooklyn, said she received a ballot envelope with another person’s name and a ballot labeled “Absentee Military.”
Garfield said she’s “furious” about the errors, is voting in-person instead and lacks confidence replacement ballots will be sent in time. She’s worried the confusion will fuel distrust in mail-in-voting and opposition from Republicans over November election results.
“It’s a mess, it’s an absolute mess,” she said.
She emailed the city board of election to avoid long phone waits and create a paper trail. “The fact they don’t know how far reaching it is, is troubling,” she added. “And you have this moment where really, now this election, this is the one this is happening to?”
In Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay section, Victoria Edel, 28, said her family of four was excited to open up their ballots to vote by mail. They had requested them online Aug. 22.
Then, they discovered she had received her younger brother’s ballot envelope. Her younger brother had her mother’s. Her mother had the envelope of a woman who appears to live nearby. She said she’s worried about people who don’t watch the news and perhaps are still sending back ballots in wrong envelopes.
“It feels like it’s really easy for a lot of people to be disenfranchised this way,” Edel said.
She’s hopeful she’ll get her correct envelope eventually.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 400,000 New York City residents voted by absentee ballot in during the primary, a figure that was 10 times the number of absentee ballots cast in the 2016 primary.
Many voters complained that their absentee ballots didn’t arrive in time for the primary. And thousands of ballots cast by mail were later disqualified for minor technical errors, including voters forgetting to sign their name, or the U.S. Postal Service failing to put a postmark on the ballot indicating when it was sent.