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.
Kapur was able to get in touch with a Board of Elections representative before the end of the business day who guaranteed a new ballot would be sent. The operator told Kapur the issue would be logged and passed up the chain.
The guarantee of a new ballot didn't ease Kapur's frustrations. He's begun to make alternative voting plans, like casting his vote in person.
Other voters, like Hannah Schneider, weren't lucky enough to get an answer before the end of the day. She also took to Twitter to try and get answers.
"I was immediately so disappointed," Schneider said when reached by phone. Just months earlier during the New York primaries, she had requested an absentee ballot that never came.
Schneider, like Kapur, is working on a backup voting plan. She and her husband, who also received an incorrect return envelope, live near Kapur in the Crown Heights/Prospect Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
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. The faulty ballots are limited to one print run of ballots sent out to Brooklyn voters, the board’s director Michael Ryan said at a board meeting Tuesday. He didn’t say during the meeting how many were printed. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa later said the issue was contained to about 100,000 ballots.
"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.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called the mix-up "appalling" in a Tuesday news conference and criticized the Board of Election for not being "a modern agency," saying it needed to be reformed. It was unclear exactly how the city planned to handle voters who had already mailed their completed ballot back in the provided envelopes.
The issue surrounding incorrect return addresses was not the only thing prompting questions from absentee voters. NYC Votes told several voters on Twitter that absentee ballots labeled "Official Absentee Military Ballot" were correct, "even if you are not serving in the military." The account also responded to a user with questions about return addresses, and directed them to call the local BOE office.
The deluge of faulty ballots, sent to voters across Brooklyn, could result in ballots being voided if voters sign their own name on return envelopes bearing different names. Ryan said elections workers will reach out to voters by social media and, if available, by telephone and email addresses. And he said the board will ensure all received ballots are “appropriately processed” and tallied votes are “properly credited.”
The pair of mishaps took place despite intense scrutiny of mail-in voting nationwide. And it comes on the heels of a rocky spring primary in New York in which election boards struggled to handle a record amount of voting by mail.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 400,000 New York City residents voted by absentee ballot in during the primary. That was 10 times the number of absentee ballots cast in the 2016 primary.
Many voters complained that their absentee ballots didn’t arrive in time for the primary. And thousands of ballots cast by mail were later disqualified for minor technical errors, including voters forgetting to sign their name, or the U.S. Postal Service failing to put a postmark on the ballot indicating when it was sent.
The city’s Board of Elections is run by Republican and Democratic appointees picked by county party leaders and is not subject to the control of City Hall. A long list of city officials and the current and past mayors have called for reforms of the body because of a history of election mismanagement.