The run-up to this year's primary has been undoubtedly met with unusual circumstances, given the COVID-19 pandemic that forced Governor Andrew Cuomo to issue an executive order allowing voters to mail in their absentee ballots by primary day on Tuesday, June 23rd.
But New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams says the process has been met with "irregularities," and he's pressing the New York City Board of Elections to address them.
In a letter he sent to BOE executive director Michael Ryan on Friday, Williams's office was informed by New York City residents and civic groups that they are confounded by the absentee ballot process, asking why some were sent with incorrect names or were told during the early voting phase that their polling site had changed without advance notification, forcing them to go elsewhere. Williams also looks to know whether absentee ballots are being properly processed.
In his letter to Ryan, Williams has asked when applicants can expect to receive their ballot (as Gothamist / WNYC reported last week, 5% have not received them yet), as well as whether the BOE has the personnel to handle a large number of absentee ballots, and how many voters have had their polling site inexplicably changed.
"Safe, civic participation in the New York State 2020 election is a cornerstone of our democracy. As you know, many of our communities, particularly communities of more color, have been ravaged by COVID-19 and will continue to deal with the impact of systemic failures and inaction for years to come," Williams wrote. "While the city is still on partial PAUSE, I want to ensure technical and administrative deficiencies do not prohibit eligible voters from safely casting their ballot."
Of the 708,421 ballots absentee ballots that have been requested, over 29,000 have not gotten into the hands of New York City residents. A BOE official told Gothamist that an unspecified number of those ballots could be considered invalid since voters may not have checked off their party affiliation on their voting application form to participate in a Democratic primary election.
Voters can still go to a polling site to vote on primary day even if they've requested an absentee ballot.
Williams isn't the only lawmaker to receive complaints over the issue of absentee ballots. In the Bronx, Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz said his office in Riverdale has received a total of 40 complaints regarding absentee ballots, a higher than average number, from voters still waiting on their absentee ballot.
"On the one hand, the ballot should have been received already. But in all fairness to the Board of Elections they are getting 30 to 40 times the normal number of absentee ballots in the Bronx, it seems—an enormous number of people filled out the absentee ballot applications—and each day more and more people are getting the ballots. I mean, I applied for an absentee ballot sometime in late May. I didn't get it in the mail until [Friday]," said Dinowitz, who is running for re-election this year.
In one complaint his office received, a voter was mailed an absentee ballot for the presidential election, but not for congressional races.
In a statement to Gothamist, Valerie Diaz, a BOE spokesperson, said the Board has been working to ensure absentee ballots "are processed by our staff and delivered by our partner the United States Postal Service."
"All our efforts are laser focused on conducting a successful election. There is still one day left of early voting," said Diaz. "Polls will be open [Sunday] from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on June 23rd polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. We encourage voters to visit nyc.pollsitelocator.com to find their poll site."
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