For scores of Brooklynites voting in the 2020 general election — one many are calling the most important in generations — got off to a rocky start when absentee ballots arrived with mislabelled names and addresses last week.
And although the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) has said the issue had been fixed, an erosion in trust is leading some would-be mail-in voters to the polls in person.
Outrage and confusion
On Sept. 29, the BOE confirmed that almost 100,000 Brooklyn voters received packets in the mail with their correct name on the ballot, but an incorrect name on their ballot envelope. The BOE blamed the mishap on its printing vendor Phoenix Graphics in Rochester, New York.
The faulty ballots sparked fury and confusion, raising questions about whether the BOE can manage the expected avalanche of mail-in ballots, fueled by safety concerns about voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Brooklyn voters wishing to safely participate in our democratic process are once again being disenfranchised by systemic errors caused by third party participants in the electoral process,” 42nd District Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte of Flatbush said in a statement.
“I am outraged that Brooklynites are receiving erroneous ballots impeding their ability to effectively vote by mail.”
Bichotte, who also serves as chair of the Kings County Democratic Party, added that she demanded “an immediate fix to this problem.”
Solution for affected voters
BOE announced that it was sending out replacement absentee ballot packets with corrected information to everyone who could have been affected by the misprints. Those who already returned a faulty absentee ballot should fill out the replacement ballot and send it in as soon as possible. The board will only count the second ballot.
Under state law, absentee ballot voters — who have either requested or mailed in their ballot — still have the option to vote in person, the statement said. An in-person vote overrides any absentee ballot the board receives.
Voters can contact the BOE with questions at 1-866-VOTE-NYC or visit its website at vote.nyc.
A loss of confidence?
BOE has a troubled past with election management, which includes broken ballot scanners, failing to maintain updated voter records, and other issues that have affected thousands of Brooklyn voters.
Sen. Zellnor Myrie, whose 20th Senate District includes Brownsville and Crown Heights, is chair of the Senate Elections Committee. The committee has conducted inquiries into the BOE’s election management in the past. This new debacle raises fresh concerns for many Brooklynites.
“There’s a credibility gap,” Myrie told BK Reader.
Myrie said some of his constituents told him they will “figure out a safe way to vote in person,” either through early voting or casting a ballot on Election Day, to ensure their vote counts.
When asked if he had lost confidence in the BOE’s election management, the senator said he believed BOE’s staff was working “in good faith” in an unprecedented situation with the number of absentee ballots they must handle.
Still, he’s promoting in-person voting. “If you are physically able and you can take the proper safety precautions, then vote during the early period,” he recommended.
However, he’s confident that absentee ballots will be counted. “And you can rest assured that if there is an issue with your ballot, you will be contacted by the BOE,” he added.
Investigation and reform on the horizon
This absentee ballot mishap comes against the backdrop of President Donald Trump raising false arguments about the validity and accuracy of mail-in voting, a tactic he hopes will aid his reelection bid.
Many raised an eyebrow when a report revealed that Phoenix Graphics has donated almost exclusively to Republican candidates and GOP political committees over the years.
As for the BOE, Myrie said: “These are not mistakes made with ill intentions. However, after we get through this election season it will be an appropriate time for us to examine how we can make reforms to the BOE and the process, to restore confidence. I think everything should be on the table.”
In the meantime, the Elections Committee is focused on voter education, Myrie stated.
“After the election, everything is an option: hearings, investigation of vendors, broad reform of the BOE,” he said.