Voters in New York City received absentee ballots with the wrong names and addresses on their ballot envelopes, adding confusion to how they’ll vote and whether their votes will count in the November election.
Some 100,000 voters were affected by the printing error, officials said Tuesday, which caused the envelopes voters use to return their ballots to have the wrong names, addresses and voter IDs on them.
Rachel Garbade, 27, who lives in Brooklyn, said the issue “adds more anxiety and fear” about whether her vote will count in an election already plagued with doubts about how the large influx of mail-in votes due to the coronavirus pandemic will be processed and counted.
“I don’t understand why something of this level importance wasn’t taken so super seriously and errors weren’t double checked,” Garbade told USA TODAY.
The problem was primarily centered in Brooklyn after voters in several neighborhoods received their absentee ballots. Garbade, however, said her grandfather, who lives in Queens, had the same issue.
Some voters said the envelope they received was for a person who lived just blocks away or on the same street. The outer envelope that includes their ballots was correctly addressed to them.
In a statement, Michael J. Ryan, the executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, said the error was caused by a vendor, Phoenix Graphics, that was contracted to print and mail ballots to voters in Brooklyn and Queens, the city’s two largest boroughs.
Phoenix Graphics did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
“We 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,” Ryan said.
Ryan said at a board meeting Tuesday that the error was limited to one printing run and the Board of Elections was working to reach out to voters. Melissa DeRosa, an aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, confirmed the issue was contained to about 100,000 ballots.
The news comes as the issue of mail-in voting has already faced scrutiny around the country. Due to COVID-19, some states, including New York, are allowing all voters to request an absentee ballot if they have concerns about the new virus and voting in person.
President Donald Trump and some Republicans have said the influx of ballots being sent to voters could lead to increased voter fraud, while Democrats have said they fear cuts to the U.S. Postal Service will delay mail-in ballots, possibly leaving votes that are not processed in time uncounted.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last Thursday his agency had not seen any evidence of coordinated national voter fraud.
“We have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise,” he said.
Absentee ballots in New York are verified by comparing the signature on the ballot envelope, or “oath envelope,” with the signature the city’s board of elections has on file, according to the instructions voters received. So if a person signed another voter’s ballot, those signatures would not match and could be voided.
Terri Gerstein, who also lives in Brooklyn, said she and her husband are planning to vote early in person after receiving the wrong ballot envelopes and realizing someone else may have received theirs. “It seems like safest way to make sure our vote is counted,” she told USA TODAY.
In New York, like other states, a voter can request and send in an absentee ballot but then later in vote in person. Only the in-person vote would be counted.
However, Gerstein said that while she and her husband are comfortable going to a polling place early, others who are at a high risk for complications due to COVID-19 may not be, even if they received the wrong ballot envelope.
“It’s concerning to me as someone who cares deeply about what happens in this election,” she added.
In a tweet Monday night, the city’s board of elections encouraged those who received the wrong envelope to send them a direct message on Twitter, email or call.
Gerstein and Garbade said they both reached out Monday night to the board for guidance about what to do but hadn’t heard back as of Tuesday morning.
David Schleifer, who also hadn’t heard back on what to do as of Tuesday, said he was worried about how many people may not even notice the incorrect name and address.
Schleifer said he’s heard from at least three friends in Brooklyn who have had the same issue. “It doesn’t give me faith in the Board of Election’s ability to run an election,” he told USA TODAY. “I don’t doubt the veracity of the results, but it’s just like, they have one job. They literally have one job.”
Schleifer also worried that the issue would cause the votes of those who may have already sent in their ballots with the wrong names and addresses to not be counted. He worried some people may just not vote now, too.
In the primary election in June, New York saw massive demand for absentee voting, with more than 1.7 million applications for absentee ballots statewide — more than 10 times the number received during the 2016 presidential primaries.
However, problems persisted, and it took more than a month to count all the absentee ballots. According to the New York Times, technical issues like a missing signature or an improperly sealed envelope caused some tens of thousands of ballots to be disqualified, many in Brooklyn.
Contributing: Jon Campbell, New York State Team; Nicholas Wu, USA TODAY