When Cecilia Golombek received her absentee ballot at her Park Slope, Brooklyn home this week, she was excited to have it in time for the Nov. 3 election.
Later, she saw an all-caps message on a Slack channel of the New Kings Democrats: “IF YOU GOT YOUR ABSENTEE BALLOT PLEASE CHECK IT IMMEDIATELY.”
Golombek, 38, an event technologist who is a member of the progressive grassroots political organization, found a problem when she opened the envelope from the city Board of Elections.
“My oath envelope, the one that you sign, has someone else’s address on it,” she said. “So, the outside envelope has mine. But then the inside envelope has someone else’s voter ID and address.”
She posted about the mistake on Facebook groups, urging others to check their ballots.
“I could have very easily missed the other person’s information because the signature is on the back side and the voter ID information is on the front side,” she said.
Michael J. Ryan, the board’s executive director, said in an emailed statement that the “error was made by the vendor, Phoenix Graphics, who has been contracted to print and mail the ballots for voters in Brooklyn and Queens.”
Phoenix Graphics, which did not return calls, said in a Sept. 30 tweet that “mechanical-inserting issues” had “affected less than 1 percent of the mailings.”
Statement from Phoenix Graphics re absentee ballot issue: pic.twitter.com/vjibOwcFtF
— Phoenix Graphics (@PG_Rochester) September 30, 2020
The board is investigating how many voters were affected and said it “will ensure on behalf of the voters in Brooklyn that the proper ballots and ballot envelopes are in the hands of the voters in advance of Election Day so they can vote.”
Voters who “received an absentee ballot with a wrong oath envelope due to an outside vendor error” should contact the board via Twitter, email, or phone, officials said. Now the board is having new ballots sent to 100,000 voters who might have gotten incorrect envelopes, the AP reports.
— NYCBoardOfElections (@BOENYC) September 29, 2020
In phone interviews, members of Brooklyn neighborhood Facebook groups who reported receiving someone else’s envelope said they found out about the error via all social media. They now plan on voting early, in person.
“This is such an important election. People are already nervous,” said Golombek, “the Board of Elections messed up pretty big time in the primary and this is a really bad start.” She now plans to vote early, in person, out of fear her vote won’t count.
Last April, the Pew Research Center estimated that two thirds of Americans expect the coronavirus pandemic to disrupt people’s ability to vote and that 70% of Americans favor access to voting by mail. President Donald Trump, who has loudly opposed the use of mail-in ballots, used the Brooklyn mess to add to his largely unsubstantiated claims that absentee voting leads to fraud.
Wow! 100,000 Mail In Ballots in New York City a total MESS. Mayor and Governor have no idea what to do. Big Fraud, Unfixable! Cancel Ballots and go out and VOTE, just like in past decades, when there were no problems!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2020
Jessica Witt, 33, a teacher who lives in Brooklyn, said she and her husband applied for their absentee ballots over a month ago. Her husband’s ballot package was in his name, but the one she received “is completely useless.”
Witt said she will now vote early to avoid any further problems.
“Even before this happened, I had talked to my husband about going to vote early, in person,” she said.
She had been most concerned about mail-in ballots being returned in time to be counted and how long might take to declare an outcome.
Sara Boyarski, 38, of Prospect Heights, who has worked in tech, also received an erroneous oath envelope. It has made her worried about voting by mail.
“This mishap is not making me feel very confident,” Boyarski said. “I might just wait to do that in person.”
Jan Combopiano of the nonpartisan Brooklyn Voters Alliance, a volunteer voting-rights advocacy group, said the printing error “undermines the process of voting” and the board should be more proactive in communicating about a problem it fortunately has time to fix.
“Because Election Day is still 30 days away, this can be fixed,” she said. “And it will be fixed in time for people to vote.”