UPDATE The New York City Board of Elections plans to move forward with a plan to mail new absentee ballot packages to nearly 100,000 voters potentially impacted by a printer error made by a vendor hired by the agency, despite a recommendation from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office to reverse the plan and only send out new absentee ballot envelopes. [More details below]
Instead, the Cuomo administration wanted the Board to mail voters just the corrected absentee ballot return envelopes, asking voters to use the ballots they were sent in the first erroneous mailing. On Monday, voters in Brooklyn who opened their absentee ballots found their return envelopes—known as the “oath” envelope because the voter signs it—labeled with the wrong names and addresses.
“We don’t control the Board of Elections but our recommendation was that sending corrected envelopes will ensure that any person that got an erroneous envelope can still vote. There is nothing wrong with the actual ballots and sending 100,000 duplicate ballots seems to be an over correction,” said Richard Azzopardi, a spokesperson for Governor Cuomo.
The suggestion came at a time when mail-in balloting is under intense scrutiny, particularly by President Trump and his supporters. He has sown doubt about the validity of the nation’s entire voting structure, from the counting of ballots to the competence of the United States Postal Service, which he controls. And he seized on the envelope issue in New York, taking what was an error made by the Rochester-based vendor Phoenix Graphics and once again raised the spectre of voter fraud without evidence.
The company ultimately released its own statement on Wednesday taking full responsibility for the mistake.
During his daily briefing, Mayor Bill de Blasio once again lashed out at the management at the New York City Board of Elections, while also throwing cold water on Cuomo’s proposal for fixing the ballot situation in Brooklyn.
“Look, I wish the Board of Elections was a mayoral agency. I have mayoral control of education and so many other key parts of the city government where we can make sure we serve people here. The Board of Elections, the city government does not control and it is incredibly frustrating because they make so many mistakes and they are so unresponsive to the people. And it's a very political organization, not a government organization,” de Blasio said.
Listen to Brigid Bergin discuss the absentee ballot problems on WNYC:
(The Board has 10 commissioners selected by the Democratic and Republican party bosses in each borough. Currently, there are nine commissioners after Brooklyn Democratic Commissioner John Flateau resigned earlier this year to take an appointment to the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission. That means Republican commissioners currently outnumber Democrats at the city BOE.)
De Blasio went on to note that only the state leaders can change the structure of the Board since it is an agency created through New York election law.
Regarding ballots, de Blasio said it was essential that the Board make sure people have the right ballot for their election district.
“I would not only say send out new ballots and new clear instructions, I would have follow-up phone calls to make sure people receive them and they confirmed they got them. And if they had any questions, we answer them. There should be a very hands on approach here. I've never seen that from the Board of Elections. That's what we need,” he added.
But, actually, that approach is very much what the city Board announced Tuesday.
Local Brooklyn lawmakers also raised concerns about the city Board adopting Cuomo’s plan, with State Senator Zellnor Myrie warning that the proposal to send only envelopes to Brooklyn voters would lead to massive voter disenfranchisement.
And Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, the Brooklyn Democratic party leader, said that the envelope proposal was actually just a miscommunication and that the Board would still be sending new absentee ballots to Brooklyn voters.
During a conference call Wednesday, Cuomo did nothing to clarify the matter. He only addressed the issue of election integrity when talking about Trump’s comments during the debate the night before, where the president continued to sow doubt in the reliability of the election results.
A spokesperson for the city Board of Elections has not yet responded to a request for comment.
UPDATE: On Wednesday evening, the city Board issued a statement saying they planned to move forward with their original plan to send all voters potentially impacted by the printing error a second absentee ballot package - including a corrected envelope and ballot.
“Upon receipt of the second ballot package, voters will be instructed to destroy the contents of the previous absentee ballot package and use the corrected materials included in this mailing. Affected voters who have returned their absentee ballot, will be instructed to fill out the replacement ballot and send it back in the provided envelope as soon as possible. The Board will ensure that the second ballot will be the only one that is counted,” the statement reads, emphasis theirs.
“It is important to note that New York State allows voters who request or even return their absentee ballot to vote in person. Your in-person voter will override any absentee ballot received by the Board,” it also states.
Voters should expect to begin receiving replacement ballots during the week of 10/09/2020.