Election officials start counting thousands of Brooklyn absentee ballots

absentee ballots
BOE workers sift through ballots at a Sunset Park warehouse on July 8.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

The Board of Elections launched a historic count of thousands of mail-in votes for Brooklyn’s June 23 primaries on July 8, with dozens of workers sorting through absentee ballots in a Sunset Park warehouse Wednesday.

The Board will count a record 379,614 absentee ballots across the Five Boroughs in the coming days and weeks, following reduced in-person voting amid COVID-19, with 112,863 of those mailed in by Kings County voters. The upside-down election process is an unprecedented task for campaign and election workers, according to one state lawmaker who dropped by the count at the Second Avenue BOE outpost.

“This is an exercise that I’ve been engaging in for at least 10 years. This is the first time though going through the process with this level of absentee ballots,” said Brownsville Assemblywoman Latrice Walker.

Walker and a handful of staffers were there to check on votes coming in for Congresswoman Yvette Clarke’s seat, a longterm central Brooklyn legislator fending off against four challengers.

Officials began by counting ballots for state and federal elections coming from voters in four Assembly Districts in southern and eastern parts of the borough that are uncontested this year —the 41st, 59th, 60th, and 64th — which together returned 9,374 mail-in ballots, according to the Board’s data.

Districts to be counted on a given day will be announced by the BOE at the close of each previous business day, according to its website.

BOE officials — one Republican and one Democrat at each table — sifted through boxes of ballots before a scanner counted the valid votes. The entire process happened within a fenced-in cage, while members of the public were restricted to watching from sidelines.

Upon request, Board clerks let one representative for a campaign sit across from the ballot checkers with a small Plexiglas to separate workers and watchers.

Almost everybody was wearing a mask, but workers were seated closer than 6 feet, which BOE spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez-Diaz said was so they could still oversee each other’s work.

Walker and her staff were there for Clarke because her congressional district overlaps with three of the districts being counted Wednesday.

Clarke already declared victory over her challengers on July 7 with 37,106 in-person votes and a 44 percentage point lead over her runner-up Adem Bunkeddeko, but a total of 42,191 mail-in votes still remain to be tallied in the Ninth Congressional District and Bunkeddeko has not yet conceded.

Walker, who’s also an attorney, is representing Clarke in a lawsuit against her four opponents for the right to challenge the official ballot count, The City reported.

Assemblymember Latrice Walker (right) and a staffer at the Board of Elections warehouse in Sunset Park on July 8.Photo by Kevin Duggan

All of the four Assembly seats in the districts counted Wednesday were uncontested, and those waiting on the results of tight races may need to wait a bit longer. The Board may push the ADs with close races further back in the week because they will drag on longer with attorneys for campaigns objecting to ballots, according to Brooklyn Democratic Party boss and Flatbush Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, who also stopped by to inspect the counting process.

“The contested ones will be a lot slower, because you’re going to have attorneys who are going to probably object to every single ballot, which is why the Board of Election, I suppose, they decided to have the contested ones closer to the end,” said Bichotte.

One of the big concerns in this election is that ballots will be invalidated if they weren’t postmarked by the Postal Service properly or by June 23, an issue first reported by WNYC.

In order to be valid, ballots needed to be postmarked by June 23, and received by BOE by June 30, according to an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but if postal workers didn’t postmark them correctly, ballots will be tossed through no fault of the voters.

Both the Brooklyn Democratic Party and more reform-oriented progressive politicos have demanded Cuomo to accept ballots that BOE received as late as June 30, regardless of postmark.

Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment.