NY Mail-In Voting is a Total Mess with Uncounted Ballot Confusion
In a pursuit to keep New Yorker’s safe from COVID-19, the state has allowed June primary votes to be sent in via mail this has led to delays in formulating results, concerns about disenfranchisement and questions about whether there will be an even bigger mess in the fall.
About 1.8 million New Yorker’s requested mail-in ballots for New York’s primary, election officials say it can take them until August to finish counting the overwhelming amount of absentee ballots because they are using a system that typically handles only 5 percent of the vote. Voting ended June 23, however, results are still unknown.
Beside the delay problem, government activists say thousands of votes cast are getting invalidated during the counting process due to small discrepancies.
Some ballots are being disqualified because voters forgot to sign and date them; others because envelopes lacked postmarks that would specify whether the ballot was dropped in the mail before the voting deadline.
President Donald Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnaney, called New York’s vote counting an “absolute catastrophe” in a press conference this week, and says it is reason enough to question voting by mail.
Candidates and voting rights groups, are pushing state lawmakers to fix bureaucratic problems now so the issues don’t repeat themselves in the general election in November, when even more people may try voting by mail.
New York City elections officials have refused to release statistics on the number of invalidated votes but Suraj Patel, a Democrat close to winning a primary race against U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, said 30% of mail-in ballots received in the Brooklyn part of the congressional district were being denied.
“This election and New York’s response, including the Senate and the Assembly, is providing Donald Trump with a blueprint to game the November elections unless they act,” Patel said.
The plan to allow voters to cast ballots by mail was decided and announced in April as the coronavirus outbreak was killing hundreds of people a day throughout New York state.
At the time the concept seamed ideal for safety, however their mistake was when they disregarded the part of the plan that should have included extra training funds for election workers handling the mailed in ballots or additional staff to help.
Many voters did not receive absentee ballots until last minute leaving them unsure of whether they should vote in person or try to mail and potentially miss the postmarked deadline of June 23.
On top of that, the state attempted to make things easier for voters by giving them postage-paid return envelopes, this backfired. The U.S. Postal Service does not usually put postmarks on that kind of metered mail and while its policy is to add the postmark to mailed ballots, it admits it failed to do so on some envelopes.
Many are now claiming that thousands of properly cast ballots mailed in on time were invalidated because they lacked postmarks, activists and candidates have voiced these concerns in a lawsuit.
The state Board of Elections said it is too early to know how many ballots were discarded because the Postal Service failed to postmark them or how many just did not make it in time.
“It’s very unfortunate that the Postal Service was unable to fully carry out what they have acknowledged was their responsibility in postmarking the mail,” said state board of elections spokesman John Conklin.
Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner says it is “unacceptable and unfortunate” that so many ballots are being excluded.
“Right now, an absentee ballot can be discarded if a cautious voter puts tape on their envelope to make sure the ballot doesn’t fall out,” she said.
She wants state officials to allow voters to request absentee ballots earlier and for election workers to be allowed to start counting sooner after election day.
Lawmakers will be fine-tuning the system in order to create a longer period for absentee ballots to be accepted, and Governor Cuomo has voiced his support towards doing so.
Right now, it is unclear whether ballots lacking post marks will be counted, but Cuomo is being pushed to update his executive order to protect June 23 primary voters from disenfranchisement.
Lawmakers plan to hold a hearing in August on how election workers have conducted the spike in absentee ballots.
“We’re studying the issue from a system-wide point of view. And any changes we can make, we will,” Cuomo said.
(Photos by Stephen B. Morton)
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