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One-fifth of all mail-in ballots disqualified in NYC primary, signaling possible November crisis

Status of disqualified votes hinges on appeal to recent court ruling.

Published: August 8, 2020 7:17pm

Updated: August 9, 2020 10:51pm

Tens of thousands of mail-in voting ballots in the recent New York Democratic presidential primary election were disqualified without being counted — a sign that the country's looming presidential election, one which may be conducted significantly by mail, could be facing procedural chaos over countless disputed and uncounted votes. 

A total of more than 84,000 ballots were disqualified in the city primary — roughly 21%, or one out of every five votes — many of them due to late submissions, lack of postmarks and missing signatures. Kings County — the borough of Brooklyn — alone saw 30,000 ballots invalidated. 

The disorganized voting and tallying process could signal a coming crisis in November, when much of the American vote is expected to be submitted via mail due to fears of the coronavirus. A Pew Research Center Poll from June found that just one out of every five Americans voted by mail in the 2016 election; many officials across the country have been pushing in recent months for every American voter to receive a mail-in ballot. 

President Trump has of late warned repeatedly that the mail-in voting process is ripe for fraud and abuse, yet the disarray of New York's primary suggests procedural issues may form a much larger concern for election integrity in November. 

New York judge's ruling leaves disputed ballots in limbo

A localized ruling by a federal judge last week has thrown the New York primary into even greater disorder. Judge Analisa Torres ruled Aug. 3 that, due to faulty mailing and processing issues, all mail-in votes in the state received up to two days after the election must be counted so long as they were postmarked by the day of the election.

Torres extended that order to cover all elections across the state, claiming that not doing so "would risk running afoul of the Constitution's guarantee of equal treatment."

State Board of Elections spokesman John Conklin told Just the News that Torres' ruling has not yet been enforced.

"The State Board of Elections is appealing the decision," he said via email. "If we lose the appeal then all affected boards will have to conduct additional canvassing for absentee ballots received on June 24th and 25th without a postmark.  The local boards would then submit amended certifications of their primary results." 

"It is not expected that the outcome in any contest will be changed," Conklin added.

"Absentee ballots can be disqualified for any number of statutory reasons," he added, including "late postmark, no postmark, the Oath envelope not signed and dated by the voter, the signature on the Oath envelope does not match the signature in the voter's registration record, the Oath envelope not sealed by the voter, the voter is deceased, the voter showed up in person to vote on Election Day," and numerous other factors.

State and local officials have been scrambling to prepare for the expected avalanche of vote-by-mail ballots in November. Doug Kellner, co-chair of the state Board of Elections, encouraged the board recently to get ready for the wave of ballots ahead of time instead of getting swamped by them during the actual election.

"Add new capacity to process the applications in a timely manner now. Do not wait for a backlog from which you can never recover," he said in a memo to the board. 

New York City Councilman Benjamin Kallos, meanwhile, wrote on Facebook that "the current state of the NYC Board of Elections is appalling and a serious impediment to our democracy."

"Too many New Yorkers have been disenfranchised already," he said. "Major changes need to be made in advance of November's election to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to vote and to have their ballot counted."

"This election is too important to get it wrong," he added. 

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