Public trust in mail-in voting for the US presidential election has been undermined after ballots were sent out strewn with errors.
Voters, including two New York Post journalists, received ballot papers marked with incorrect names, addresses and the confusing phrase "Official Military Absentee Ballot", whether or not they were armed forces personnel, rather than "Military/Absentee Ballot" as is customary.
“I believe that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who had received a dozen complaints by Sunday. “People were already not trusting this process and they were already not trusting the Board of Elections to count the ballot right.”
More concerning were reports of ballots sent out with the wrong name or address, which would invalidate a citizen's vote if submitted by mistake. The Gothamist quoted several New York citizens who complained of such errors.
— John DePasquale (@johndepasquale_) September 28, 2020
Psychiatrist Jeremy Klopman, who applied for a postal ballot for health reasons, said he only noticed the wrong name on his ballot when he was about to sign it on Monday.
“My heart just started sinking because I’m sitting there thinking, if they sent out half a million ballots already to the wrong place, that’s going to cause a huge problem to claw them all back,” he said.
Katie Bishop, a producer at the Gothamist's sister radio station WNYC, found the return envelope enclosed with her ballot was addressed to her husband, and her husband's was addressed to their neighbour.
“I’m really glad I was paying attention because I’m not sure I would have caught this if I wasn’t trying to be careful,” she said.
New York City Board of Elections blamed the mistakes on private printing firm Phoenix Graphics.
"We are determining how many voters have been affected but we can assure that the vendor will addresses this problem in future mailings, and make sure people who received erroneous envelopes receive new ones," board Executive Director Michael Ryan's spokesperson told Fox News.
"We will ensure on behalf of the voters in Brooklyn that the proper ballots and ballot envelopes are in the hands of the voters in advance of Election Day so they can vote," he insisted
“Look, this is a stupid error, but there is time to get it fixed,” said Executive Director Susan Lerner. "If you check your envelope and it’s the wrong name, call the Board immediately."
But lawyer Ali Najmi, who with counsel J. Remy Green successfully sued the state electoral board and the US Postal Service this summer, warned that the issue was deadly serious.
"If left unresolved, this will disenfranchise potentially thousands of voters—this must be fixed," he said. "If a plan to resolve this is not made within 24 hours, we will see the Board of Elections in federal court yet again."
Nine states and the District of Columbia are sending out mail-in ballots to all their registered voters - a total of 44 million - in the November 3 election, ostensibly to prevent the spread of coronavirus at crowded polling stations. Republican critics of the move have pointed out that many voters will have moved home since they last registered and failed to update their address.
Another 34 states with 118 million voters will allow anyone to apply for an absentee ballot without providing any justification.