NEW YORK: Five weeks before Election Day, New York City has been inundated with widespread reports of invalid absentee ballots being sent to voters, with incorrect names and addresses placed across an untold number of mail-back envelopes.
So far, the ballot errors appear to be concentrated in Brooklyn, a borough of 2.6 million people whose elections board has a history of mismanaging elections.
Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, blamed the problem on the board’s vendor, Phoenix Graphics, a commercial printing company based in Rochester, New York, which was hired to mail out ballots in Brooklyn and Queens.
“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,” Ryan said in a statement Tuesday.
The mislabeled ballots may further undermine confidence in the New York City Board of Elections, which mishandled the state’s primary election in June, and could buttress President Donald Trump’s assertions that absentee voting is plagued with troubles.
City Board of Elections officials are encouraging voters to call a hotline to receive a new ballot. But phone lines already appear to be jammed: Two voters who called Monday reported being 65th, and “80-something” in line.
Sal DeBiase, president and chief executive at Phoenix Graphics, did not reply to multiple requests for comment. The company, which was also hired to print and send ballots in June’s primary elections, has worked with the city’s Board of Elections for years.
Election officials in New York City have already processed nearly 500,000 absentee ballot applications and began mailing ballots to voters last week. While it remains unclear how many voters have been affected, the printing errors appear to be widespread.
On Monday, Merrily Rosso, who lives in Bushwick, got an absentee ballot with a stranger’s name on it. She looked him up and discovered that he lives nearby. Concerned, she called the Brooklyn Board of Elections twice. The first time, they hung up. The second time, they let the phone ring.
So she called the New York City Board of Elections. There were roughly 80 callers ahead of her in line. She hung up.
Rich Rotondo, a Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, resident who works as a project manager for the city, said that he and his partner got ballots with the wrong information on them.
Curious if their neighbors were having a similar experience, they stopped someone who lives in their building and asked him to open his absentee ballot.
“And he opened it up and his was wrong,” Rotondo said. “Nobody has the right one.”
Sarah Steiner, an elections lawyer, said she had spoken with a contact at the elections board and anticipated that the Board of Elections will send a letter to all affected voters explaining the error, in addition to the second ballot.
Ballots signed by the wrong voters will be invalid, Steiner said. Voters who unwittingly sign erroneous ballots will still be able to vote — via a second ballot, or in person. In-person votes cancel a voter’s absentee ballot.
”I’m worried because anything that confuses voters at this point or makes them leery of voting or suspicious of the process is damaging to democracy,” Steiner said.
Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, said he had received reports of the problems in the city, as well as far more isolated problems in Nassau County, where he is aware of only three affected ballots.
“The downside of introducing widespread absentee balloting is that, once the Boards of Elections start contracting out the process of mailing, then they lose quality control and direct supervision of what goes on,” said Kellner, a Democrat. “This is a good example of the problem.”
The printing error comes on the heels of a June primary election that was riddled with issues and delays.
Overwhelmed by an avalanche of mail-in ballots — 40% of voters sent absentee ballots compared with just 4% in previous years — election officials spent more than a month counting ballots in some closely watched congressional races.
Tens of thousands of absentee ballots, especially in Brooklyn, were also disqualified because of technical issues like missing postmarks, a missing signature or an improperly sealed envelope.
State officials have taken some steps to address those problems before the November election, implementing new reforms to allow voters to fix errors with their ballots and expanding options for voters to physically drop off their absentee ballots at early polling sites and election offices.
But state election officials are expecting more than 5 million absentee ballots in the presidential election, or four times the number received in June, and some have already warned that results might not be known until early December.
“I’m disappointed to say the least,” said Matt Eylenberg, a Brooklynite who got the wrong ballot Monday. “There’s so much stress around this election, as I’m very sure you are aware. They’re really testing the mettle of absentee voting, for sure, and it’s not a good start.”