”Systematic failures” at the state Board of Elections and U.S. Postal Service resulted in nearly one in 10 absentee ballots cast in the June 23 primary being invalidated, a federal judge wrote, detailing a bureaucratic debacle that will cast a shadow over the looming presidential election.
Manhattan Federal Judge Analisa Torres’s 48-page decision ordering the counting of thousands of absentee ballots that had previously been invalidated also provided a detailed analysis of government failure to protect the right to vote.
“Whether an individual’s vote will be counted in this race, therefore, may depend in part on something completely arbitrary—their place of residence and by extension, the mailbox or post office where they dropped off their ballot,” Torres wrote in a ruling Monday evening.
Prior to Torres issuing her ruling, President Trump cited the fiasco in New York as evidence for his baseless claim that November’s presidential election will be “rigged” for the Democrats if mail-in voting access is expanded.
Torres’s decision made clear that the government was unprepared for the surge in absentee ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic. Roughly 1.2 million New York voters, including 414,582 in New York City, voted by absentee ballot in the June 23 primary — more than 10 times the number of absentee ballots cast in the 2016 primary.
Much of the blame fell on the Postal Service, which failed to postmark thousands of ballots despite a policy that it do so.
“Despite the postal service’s best efforts, there is uncontroverted evidence that thousands of absentee ballots for the June 23 Primary were not postmarked,” Torres wrote. “This could be due to a number of human or mechanical errors.”
Brooklyn voters faced a particular risk of disenfranchisement. In the race between Rep. Carolyn Maloney and her progressive challenger Suraj Patel, the proportion of ballots invalidated for lack of a postmark in Brooklyn was 50% higher than in Manhattan and Queens.
But the Board of Elections also blew it.
On June 22, the Postal Service received over 30,000 absentee ballots that needed to be delivered to voters by the next day.
The Commissioner of the Board of Elections, Douglas Kellner, acknowledged the failure yet argued re-counting the invalidated ballots would be too burdensome.
“So then the . . . voter’s precious right to vote is just left to chance, random chance, whether he or she ends up with a post office that does its job?” Torres asked during a two-day hearing.
“That’s absolutely correct, Judge,” Kellner replied. “And I could give you thousands of examples of where random chance disenfranchises voters in our current election system, and, yes, we want to try to address them, but you have to address them in a way that is administratively doable.”
The Postal Service and Board of Elections did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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