Following a June primary vote in which an estimated 20% of New York City mail-in ballots were thrown out due to technicalities, concerns about the November presidential election are valid and on the rise.
Election officials are hoping to declare winners by August 4, more than a month after New York’s primary, according to The Atlantic, and NYC has already invalidated upwards of 100,000 absentee ballots—about one of every five that were mailed in from the five boroughs. And frustrated candidates are already filing lawsuits charging discrimination and disenfranchisement.
The city Board of Elections, which launched a Herculean, last-minute effort to conduct the vote amid fears of spreading the virus, got mixed reviews for its handling of the ballot — and its outlook for the fall.
“I have no confidence in the November election,” NYC Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) told the Daily News. “There’s a possibility that the absentee ballot is restricted again because we have one of the most backward laws in the country.”
He faulted the BOE for failing to follow a 2016 law he authored requiring the board to track absentee ballots from request to receipt — one of the issues at the heart of discounted ballots in June.
“We can cut their funding,” Kallos said of the board’s intransigence. “But in this case, cutting funding to the Board of Elections would only result in worse elections.”
Susan Lerner, executive director of good government group Common Cause New York, also cited ballot tracking as among several steps she thinks the BOE should take to improve the voting process.
But she had a more favorable view of the board’s performance last month.
“The BOE was handed a very, very difficult task in a very short period of time,” she said. “They actually have done, given the challenge, a credible job.
“A lot of the issues that have been disallowing ballots are not necessarily the BOE’s choice, but the legislature’s choice,” she added.
On ballot tracking, Lerner noted the U.S. Postal Service already offers “intelligent mail” service that in which barcodes on envelopes let people track their mail.
“If you and I can track our kitchen utensils coming from Amazon through the mail, we ought to be able to track our ballots,” she said. “It’s a low- or no-cost system available to all Americans. The board should be able to use it.”
Lerner also wants to see more workers hired to prepare for elections and to count votes, a process that is still ongoing for some races more than a month after Primary Day.
In June, there were about a thousand in-person ballot locations citywide, slightly fewer than in the previous election. BOE did not share the number of workers last month or its hiring plans for November.
Another improvement Lerner suggested was the use of drop boxes. She said the city could emulate areas including Colorado, which allows voters to drop off absentee ballots in secure boxes at polling sites.
That could redress widespread problems with mailing votes on time, she said.
“It doesn’t have to be a metal box under video security if it’s in the polling place,” Lerner said. “All these things would facilitate the process of voting so there’d be fewer glitches.”
Besides the presidential race, New Yorkers will also vote for congressional and local representation on November 3 and according to the NYC Board of Elections, early voting at polling sites will take place from Oct. 24 through Nov. 1.
Then there’s mail-in voting. You can request an absentee ballot online or through the mail. If you go for the latter, your application must be postmarked by Oct. 27 according to the state Board of Elections.
“The board’s focus is on certification of the primary,” BOE spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez said in a statement. “Once we certify, we will finalize plans for the November general election.”