Remember how well the primary went with mail-in ballots for New York’s primary? Somewhere in Brooklyn or Queens, election officials may still be counting ballots — or throwing them out — for the June contest. It took weeks to figure out who won those primaries in some cases, and spoilage/invalidation rates went off the charts, reaching past 20% in New York City.
Those might turn out to be the good ol’ days for Big Apple mail voting. Astute voters began noticing yesterday that the absentee ballots sent out to them had the names of others on the interior return envelope. That mismatch would invalidate every ballot sent back to the precincts, meaning that New York City voters who have already completed this process have likely already been disenfranchised:
With five weeks left until the Nov. 3 election, many voters are eager to cast their ballots absentee and early. A growing number of registered voters in Brooklyn, however, received ballots on Monday with an incorrect return address.
Such voters include Anders Kapur, who has voted absentee in the past without any problems. By his account, the ballot was marked with his correct information, including his address and voter ID number, but the return envelope was addressed to a completely different person. …
A Board of Election spokesperson told News 4 that a vendor hired to print and distribute ballots to voters in Queens and Brooklyn was responsible for the error.
“We are determining how many voters have been affected but we can assure that the vendor will address this problem in future mailings, and make sure people who received erroneous envelopes receive new ones,” the spokesperson said, adding the proper ballots and envelopes would get to voters in advance of Nov. 3.
That wasn’t the only printing error on the ballots. The ballots also are misleadingly labeled as “Official Military Absentee Ballot” rather than the normal “Official Military/Absentee Ballot,” leading to some confusion. That error isn’t fatal to the voting process; the Bureau of Elections announced yesterday that those ballots would not be invalidated and are fine to use.
That’s not the case with the ballot/envelope mismatch, however. The BoE said new ballots would be mailed out to replace the apparently massively erroneous first wave, but there’s no telling how many may have already been submitted:
— NYCBoardOfElections (@BOENYC) September 29, 2020
“We are determining how many voters have been affected but we can assure that the vendor will address this problem in future mailings, and make sure people who received erroneous envelopes receive new ones,” the spokesperson said. …
“Normally, the voter inserts their completed ballot into the envelope and signs the outside,” Gothamist notes. “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.”
Multiple voters in Brooklyn told Gothamist that mislabeled “official absentee ballot” envelopes had been sent to them. The New York Post reports some voters in Queens had received misprinted military ballots.
City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer told the Post, “There’s just mass confusion about these ballots and what people are supposed to do with them. People were already not trusting this process and they were already not trusting the Board of Elections to count the ballot right.”
And for good reason. This time, the city couldn’t even get the absentee ballot system correct, and that’s a process that has long been in use, as opposed to the abrupt embrace of mass-mailed ballots for the primary. That decision might have been understandable in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it led to disaster in the primary, and it appears New York might be heading into another for November.
Small wonder that Americans are losing enthusiasm for voting by mail. That is an entirely rational reaction to an irrational and dangerous policy. Mail-in voting introduces too many points of failure for true reliability on a large scale. Absentee voting in previous elections made up a small enough percentage of the overall vote to tolerate the variances it produces, and those who apply for absentee ballots are presumably more invested in the process as well. We have learned both that in-person transactions in the pandemic are manageable and that quickly-created mass mail-in voting systems produce far too much failure for credible and reliable results.
In other words, if we can go to Walmart, we can go to the voting booth in person and cast ballots reliably. New York City’s learning that the hard way. Again.