‘Undemocratic’: Greenpoint Assembly candidate accuses incumbent of trying to disenfranchise mail-in votes

BOE staff check votes for the 50th Assembly District, while campaigns keep watch over the process, on July 20.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Insurgent north Brooklyn Assembly candidate Emily Gallagher accused her opponent, longtime incumbent Joe Lentol, of attempting to disenfranchise voters by trying to get fewer mail-in ballots counted, as the Board of Elections began counting absentee votes for the hotly-contested state seat Monday.

Volunteers for Lentol’s campaign arrived at the Board of Elections’ Sunset Park warehouse on Second Avenue on July 20 with a list of absentee votes they were seeking to invalidate, even though the BOE preliminarily deemed them proper beforehand.

“We were surprised to hear that they were going to try to contest more ballots at the site, because we just felt we should be trying to keep ballots in not push ballots out,” Gallagher said at the counting facility between 51st and 52nd streets. “To learn that my opponent is trying to remove votes from the election is undemocratic.”

On July 18, the city’s election officials sent campaigns copies of ballots they preliminarily considered valid or not, due to issues like missing signatures or postmarks, but Lentol’s team is looking to challenge some of those the Board considered valid.

When those copies arrived at Gallagher’s campaign offices in boxes, she posted a picture of the preliminary invalid ballots on Twitter, showing the scale of votes that could be tossed by the Board.

A representative for Lentol confirmed that the campaign had a list, which he said was “very limited,” but declined to give specifics on how many votes they were aiming to contest or give examples of what they believe invalidated them.

“We want to hold every ballot to a consistent standard. We have a very limited list of ballots that we think the Board made a wrong determination on,” said Matthew Rey. “We’re not objecting to thousands of ballots or hundreds of ballots, we’re just making sure the Board made the right determination.”

BOE staff began counting absentee votes on July 8, starting with uncontested seats before moving on to competitive elections, which on Monday included the 50th, 56th and 57th assembly districts.

Gallagher trailed Lentol by 15 percent of the in-person votes last month, with 4,845 votes cast for the upstart candidate, versus 6,608 for the 47-year incumbent of the seat to represent Greenpoint and Williamsburg.

But 9,689 absentee votes remain to be counted in the 50th Assembly District in the coming days, and more people cast their vote by mail in the parts of the district where Gallagher did better, such as Greenpoint and the northern half of Williamsburg, according to an analysis by her campaign.

“It’s going to change the election,” Gallagher said. “The election as we know up until this point is only half done.”

Lentol, by contrast, did better in southern Williamsburg, a predominantly Hasidic Jewish part of the district, and Rey said that community was disproportionately disenfranchised from voting in person due to mistakes from the Board or clerical errors.

“Unfortunately Emily is not talking about it because it does not affect her. We hope that she’s going to have the same spirit of having every vote counted when it gets to the affidavit ballots, where people — many of whom were Hasidic Jewish voters — incorrectly found to be not allowed to vote on the machines,” he said.

He said that many of these votes will come in via affidavit ballots, a provisional vote someone casts if they were denied a regular vote in person due to not being listed, which BOE counts after absentee ballots.

Rey claimed that affidavit votes could be the determining factor for this race.

“We think there’s going to be hundreds of these ballots that are still to be counted,” he said.

Gallagher — along with local Congressional challenger Suraj Patel and more than a dozen voters — sued Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s Board of Election in federal court on July 17 saying that thousands of voters will be disenfranchised because they claim that the Board and the United States Postal Service mishandled dealing with the unprecedentedly large amount of absentee ballots as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That includes an issue with postmarks, where many ballots will be invalidated because the Postal Service didn’t postmark them correctly or in time, or because the BOE sent out the mail-in ballots too late or not at all.

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.

Many New Yorkers also complained that they received their ballots late or not at all.  

Gallagher called on Lentol to also push for votes to count that weren’t postmarked in time or correctly.

“The postmark issue is no fault of the voter, there’s nothing a voter could do,” she said. “I think it should be a universal feeling that those should be kept in.”

Rey only said that Lentol wasn’t named in the lawsuit, but declined to further comment on the Assemblymember’s thoughts about the postmarking issue.

“I’m going to say that I don’t believe we’ve been served with and are not a party to that case, and I’ll leave it at that,” he said.