2020 Election & Mail-In Ballots: Local Officials, Not Postal Service, Biggest Concern

A poll worker labels a wrapped pallet of absentee ballots for shipment at the Wake County Board of Elections on the first day that the state started mailing them out in Raleigh, N.C., September 4, 2020. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Like it or not, mail-in ballots are going to be a very big part of the 2020 election. Conspiracy theories to the contrary, there is every sign that the Postal Service will be ready to handle the volume, although the tight timeframes required to meet every state’s deadlines are why the USPS sent out a lot of warning letters telling states that it may simply be impossible to process mail in the compressed timeframes their laws allow.

New York, however, is not ready. Brace yourselves for a mess – one that is almost entirely in the hands of the Democratic officials who run New York at every level.

The latest fiasco is that New York City is re-sending 100,000 absentee ballots to Brooklyn voters – out of 140,000 sent so far to voters in the borough – due to envelopes with printing errors that listed an incorrect name or address. A Rochester vendor was blamed. Thus far, the Board of Elections has focused its response on trying to inform voters why they are receiving a second ballot, which leaves open the question of what happens if they send back both – perhaps having voted differently on two ballots. Some Board of Elections sources argue that the ballots are sufficiently ID-coded to avoid both being counted.

This was too much incompetence even for Mayor de Blasio: “It’s appalling,…I don’t know how many times we’re going to see the same thing happen at the Board of Elections and be surprised.” Governor Andrew Cuomo has tried to intervene to get the Board to re-send only the envelopes, not new ballots, leading to counter-charges from fellow Democrats that his proposal would “disenfranchise” voters who were stuck with only one ballot. A leading Brooklyn lawmaker has so lost faith in the mail-in system that he is publicly urging voters to show up in person:

“For the safety of your vote, better to vote in person,” Brooklyn Sen. Zellnor Myrie, who chairs the legislative body’s elections committee, said in an appearance on NY1 Wednesday night. Myrie said all but the most health-compromised New Yorkers should vote in person because election officials and the postal service are not prepared to handle the unprecedented onslaught of mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 general election taking place during the coronavirus pandemic.

The New York Times has likewise editorialized against trusting the mail-in voting system:

Any New Yorker who is able to do so ought to vote early and in person. The news this week that the city’s Board of Elections sent defective absentee ballots to nearly 100,000 voters makes this need clear. The board has caused problems for years, from long lines at the polls to illegal voter purges. This week, tens of thousands of voters, mostly in Brooklyn, opened their absentee ballots to find someone else’s name printed on the envelope they are meant to mail back, making the ballots unusable.

This comes on the heels of the state’s June 23 primaries, in which the large mail-in vote broke the system. Some legislative districts didn’t even start counting ballots until a month after the election. The most notorious race was Suraj Patel’s primary challenge to incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. It took six weeks to count the votes. Patel did not concede until August 27, complaining that one in five mail-in ballots had yet to be counted. Patel sued in federal court to get ballots counted that arrived without postmarks, so some of his complaints are really just sour grapes with how the law works, but “some of those uncounted ballots include duplicates and ballots sent to people who chose to vote in-person on election day, however. Thousands of voters in the district also reported receiving their ballots late, or never getting one at all.” Testimony from Patel’s lawsuit illustrated the disaster:

City officials were deluged. Eleven days before the election, “the Manhattan borough office had something like 30 or 40,000 pending applications for absentee ballots, and I was told that they could only process 5,000 per day,” testified Douglas Kellner, the co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections. “Basically my view is that they threw up their hands and said, ‘Well, there’s nothing more that we can do.’” As a result, many ballots were sent to voters late. Allen Tanko, a marketing manager with the U.S. Postal Service, said that one day before the voting, on June 22, the city Board of Elections dropped 34,359 items, presumably ballots, into the mail stream. Postal workers tried to expedite them, but some of these ballots were sent to New Yorkers temporarily out of state, who could not possibly have received them in time.

Prospects for November are not encouraging:

Officials for the state Board of Elections testified to the state Legislature this month that they expect many of the same problems that plagued the June primary to occur in the November general, which will see significantly higher turnout. With an estimated 5 million absentee ballots expected, the state BOE also said they would need another $50 million to process them all, on top of the $25 million generally needed to conduct a presidential election.

The state legislature rejected proposals for an online ballot-tracking system, such as is used in Florida. We’ve heard a lot of efforts, even from Joe Biden in Tuesday’s debate, to tell us that mail-in balloting is fine because it has worked for years in Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Washington, and Hawaii. But New York City alone has as many voters as four of those five states put together, and no experience doing this.

Democrats have spent much of the past two decades irresponsibly raising fears of mass suppression and disenfranchisement of voters and a variety of other conspiracy theories – Russians hacked the voting machines! – to cast doubt on the legitimacy of American elections. Donald Trump has taken up their game, recklessly telling the nation in Tuesday’s debate that we could have “a fraudulent election.” Trump may be spinning fantasies, but in the case of New York, voters are right to be alarmed.

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