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Mail fail: BOE to re-mail ballots after widespread errors

Mail fail: BOE to re-mail absentee ballots after widespread errors

Up to 100,000 voters in Brooklyn may have received incorrect absentee ballots, the Board of Elections said Tuesday.
Ginger Adams

After widespread reports of city contractors mailing out faulty absentee ballot envelopes to voters around Brooklyn, Board of Elections honchos announced Tuesday they will resend corrected ballots to borough voters.

“We [will] direct the vendor to reprint and re-mail all of the absentee ballot packages to all of the voters that were affected,” said Board of Elections executive director Michael Ryan during the board’s weekly meeting Sept. 29.

Up to 100,000 voters in Brooklyn may have received absentee ballots with return envelopes that featured strangers’ names and incorrect addresses, according to an estimate by the borough’s Democratic Party Boss Rodneyse Bichotte. 

Amid the confusion, prospective voters took to social media to express their frustration — including one Brooklynite named Morgan, who received a mail-back envelope ostensibly meant for someone named Sean.

“Like seemingly everyone else in Brooklyn, I got the wrong envelope to go with my absentee ballot. This should have gone to someone named Sean,” the frustrated woman tweeted. 

The BOE head cast full blame for the bad ballots on a contracted upstate printer — Phoenix Graphics — saying the snafu happened during one print run and was isolated to the one borough, which is home to 2.6 million residents.

“Our understanding of this problem up to this point is that it is isolated in one borough — that would be the borough of Brooklyn — and one print run, and that would be the data that we transmitted to them in the first day of processing,” the elections honcho said.

Phoenix Graphics will shoulder the cost of reprinting and re-mailing ballots with a note to voters telling them why they’re getting a second ballot. BOE bigwigs will also launch a communications blitz to inform their staff and voters about the reissue, according to Ryan, who said establishing confidence in the voting process was of paramount concern, doubling down that it really wasn’t BOE’s fault.

“It is essential that confidence be established in this process and that we make certain that all of the voters who potentially have a problem, have a full and fair opportunity to remedy that problem,” he said. “It’s also essential to point out that this is a vendor error and that the vendor is bearing the cost of fixing this problem from a printing side of it.”

Following the public uproar about the problem, the BOE urged voters on Monday to contact the agency via email at Apply4Absentee@boe.nyc or by phone at 1-866-VOTE-NYC if they got a wrong ballot.

Bichotte, the Brooklyn party boss, echoed Ryan, saying the outside contractor was squarely to blame for the mishap, and demanded that the agency send BOE staff to oversee print productions — while also notifying affected voters if their ballots won’t be counted.

“Brooklyn voters wishing to safely participate in our democratic process are once again being disenfranchised by systemic errors caused by third party participants in the electoral process,” she said in a statement on Tuesday. “I am outraged that Brooklynites are receiving erroneous ballots impeding their ability to effectively vote by mail.”

The politico said the agency needed to restore confidence in the voting process, especially as Democratic incumbents face Republican challengers in the borough’s few swing districts along its southern belt come Nov. 3 — such as Congressman Max Rose in Bay Ridge, and state Sen. Andrew Gounardes in Marine Park.

“This problem is troubling, and could impact the outcome of the elections in south Brooklyn, where there are marginal races,” Bichotte said. “I will work in tandem with city and state agencies to ensure that this risk is minimized.”

Rochester-based Phoenix Graphics bills itself as “New York State’s largest ballot producer,” and was awarded a non-competitive $4.6 million contract to handle absentee ballots, The City reported. The issue is of particular importance this year, as the number of people opting to vote by mail is set to soar in numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic keeping people away from crowded in-person places.

The company has also donated $26,646 to Republican and Democratic organizations in the state since 2009, public records show.

Phoenix Graphics did not return multiple requests for comment by press time.

Amid the rush to blame Phoenix Graphics, another politico said that patronage and partisan appointments of BOE commissioners by county parties were the root cause of repeated failures by the agency during election season.

“[BOE] is an inherently political organization and the backroom deals that are made to appoint the commissioners to BOE is what has led to this chaos,” said Jessica Thurston, vice president of political affairs at New Kings Democrats. “BOE is trying to place blame on their third-party contractor, this is fully on them to get it right.”

The agency in charge of the city’s election is run by ten commissioners — one nominated by the Republican and Democratic parties of each borough, who are then confirmed by the Council — leading to appointments based on political alignment rather than merit, according to Thurston, who argued that the agency should have implemented more checks before ballots went out.

“Why didn’t they have a process in place to check whether this is working,” she said. “Instead they’re relying on voters getting these faulty ballots.”

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