NEW YORK, NY — More than 500,000 mail-in ballots have gone uncounted during the 2020 primary season nationwide, many because they were deemed incomplete or arrived too late.
The issue could grow: A record number of voters are expected to stay away from traditional polling places for the Nov. 3 general election because of the coronavirus pandemic and instead cast ballots by mail.
New York's primary election in June is already being held up as a possible harbinger of things to come. Thousands of mail-in ballots were under-counted due to issues with postmarks, signatures and more, and some races weren't officially declared for weeks.
As the general election looms, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to open up mail-in voting for all New Yorkers, who can ensure their vote is among those tallied by following these dates and deadlines:
Nov. 3 - Election Day
Oct. 24 - Nov. 1. - Early voting.
Anyone can request a mail-in ballot if they're afraid of contracting the coronavirus. Click here to download the absentee ballot application.
Oct. 27 - The absentee ballot application must be submitted online, emailed, faxed or postmarked. The state Board of Elections said the U.S. Postal Service has warned it cannot guarantee timely delivery of ballot applications that are applied for less than 15 days before the election.
Nov. 2 - The last day to apply in-person for an absentee ballot.
Nov. 3 - Deadline to postmark ballot. Must be received by local board of elections no later than Nov. 10. Military voter ballots must be received no later than Nov. 16.
Nov. 3 - Deadline to deliver in-person to local board of elections or any polling site.
You may apply for an absentee ballot in any of the following ways:
Electronically through the state's Absentee Application Portal (coming soon).
Sending an email request to the local county board of elections.
Sending a fax request to the local
Going in-person to the local
Mailing a paper application to the local
Once you receive the ballot, mark the ballot with your selections for each office, following all instructions on the ballot.
Once you have completed marking your ballot, fold it up and place it in the security envelope. (This envelope will have a place for your signature.)
Sign and date the outside of the security envelope.
Seal the security envelope.
Place the security envelope in the return envelope. (This envelope will have the return address of your county Board of Elections on the outside and should have a logo that reads, “Official Election Mail”).
Seal the return envelope.
Return the ballot in any of the following ways:
Put it in the mail ensuring it receives a postmark no later than Nov. 3.
Bring it to the county Board of Elections office no later than Nov. 3.
Bring it to an early voting poll site between Oct. 24-Nov. 1.
Bring it to a polling site Nov. 3.
With guidelines changing in many states, more than 80 percent of all American voters will be eligible to receive a ballot in the mail for the 2020 election, by far the most in U.S. history.
That’s a result of 20 states loosening vote-by-mail laws this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of Aug. 25, data from The Washington Post indicated that 100 million people will be eligible to vote by mail either with no “excuse” or citing fears of the coronavirus as a reason. Among them, 51 million people will be automatically sent a ballot in the mail and 44 million people sent an application for a mail-in ballot.
Only six states still require a valid excuse other than coronavirus fears to vote absentee. Five states had already conducted elections solely by mail even before the pandemic.
But will your vote actually count?
In the primary election, a study by The Post showed 534,731 ballots were nixed in 23 states, and NPR found even more — 558,032 in 30 states — in a similar study. In New York City alone, more than 84,000 mail-in ballots were tossed and lawsuits were filed over the legitimacy of the outcomes of some close races.
Millions of people will cast their ballots by mail for the first time in the 2020 general election. Pew Research numbers show the number of people who vote by mail had already been on a sharp increase for years. In 2016, more than 20 percent of voters nationwide voted by mail, a total of about 27 million.
Of the 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, officials found just 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people, according to Electronic Registration Information Center data analyzed by the Post. That equates to a 0.0025 percent fraud rate. The Brennan Center for Justice has described vote-by-mail fraud as “infinitesimally small.”
Why are people concerned about a legitimate election with so few documented cases of actual fraud?
Partly, it’s problems with the U.S. Postal Service. But equally troublesome are problems that exposed themselves during the primaries. The Post data shows more ballots were rejected in 23 states than the number of absentee ballot rejections reported in the 2016 general election nationwide, in large part because of mistakes in filling out the ballots.
That means a lot more opportunities for inexperienced mail-in voters to make mistakes — which Daniel A. Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida, said could pose a significant problem in the rejection rate come November.
“Experience matters,” Smith told the Post. “If you lack experience voting by mail, the odds of you casting a ballot that doesn’t count will go up.”
To make sure your ballot is counted:
Register to vote: In most states, you can do that online.
Follow directions: "If it says fill in the oval, fill in the oval," Amber McReynolds of the National Vote at Home Institute told NPR.
Send it back: Make sure to mail in your ballot well ahead of the deadline.
President Donald Trump, who voted by mail in the Florida primary and praised his home state’s absentee voting system, has often said — with no supporting data — that the upcoming election will be the “most rigged” in American history due to the amount of mail-in ballots expected to be cast.
Legal cases are ongoing involving the Trump administration and several states over mail-in voting.
Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said if the election between Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden is close, the mail-in ballots will create “a mess.”
“The two campaigns will be arguing over nonconforming ballots, which is going to run up against voters’ beliefs in fair play,” Stewart told The Post.
There’s also growing concern over the governmental entity tasked with handling the influx of mail-in ballots.
Under Trump, the Postal Service has come under fire for increasingly slow service, mail backlogs and planned changes that some have feared will have an effect on their ability to handle the expected massive increase of mail-in ballots this year.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told senators on Capitol Hill in recent testimony he was unaware of certain changes at the Postal Service until they caused a public uproar. But he also said there are no plans to restore mailboxes or high-speed sorting machines that have been removed. His testimony raised fresh questions about how the Postal Service will ensure timely delivery of ballots for the November election.
In some places such as Chicago, vote-by-mail drop boxes will be installed so voters can avoid the lines at the polls and not have to worry about Postal Service issues.
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.