New Yorks Mail-In Ballot Failure
The. Here in New York there these huge spaces all over the city where up until a few days ago ballots were being scrutinized and votes were being counted. Queens isn't like an auditorium. And the one in Brooklyn is in literal cage. Like a wire cage inside this warehouse that is just filled otherwise with voting machines wrapped in plastic. Jada you on rights for the Washington Post she's been looking at these sites ballots come here to be certified confirmed as authentic. When I was there in Brooklyn a bunch of people conferred around and they're like Berry actually wasn't even supposed to meet voting in this district. So Berry got. Out. Like literally, a guy named Barry Yeah. Literally. Poor vary whoever you are other am so sorry. But this process of certification it's been happening for nearly a month. Election Day York the primary for Congress and the Presidency it was way back in June thirty seven days ago. In a couple of races New York still hasn't officially called the race and it's just you can't look away but you also. What is happening and why is this taking? So long it's funny I'm used to thinking about election night I feel like all of us are right. But it feels like that whole concept needs a rebrand. Election Months. It's sort of it's like it's like you know when people say it's my birthday month. Except that you're not celebrating. You're just sort of stuck in waiting for Godot for ever. This. Is Not how it normally works. Right? Well, I think it's how it normally works with with absentee ballot counting and affidavit counting, but there's just never been this scale. Like everything else in the World New York's election was transformed by COVID. And the results aren't pretty the scale of absentee ballots or in New York is seventeen point, five times higher than it was in the last primary election. And if you're wondering if New, York's various institutions ready to deal with that flood of mail and voting. The simple answer it's now not at all. Today on the show, a one states efforts to make sure all its residents could vote safely. Made. A mess. It's still being cleaned up. And come November declaring a winner might be even harder. I'm Mary. Harris you're listening to what? Next stick with US This episode is brought to you by Casper. We've all heard a casper you know the sleep company with the outrageously comfortable products at not. So outrageous prices from award winning mattresses, pillows, sheets, and do vase casper is transforming the way we sleep once news at a time. And now you can save on the coolest mattress for summer with his brand new air scape technology. The original mattress provides the support and cooling need with the comfort. 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WHO's their challenger with six hundred and forty eight votes separating them six hundred, forty, eight. Wow. I thought well, this is going to be interesting. When are they ever going to figure out who? When this thing? was interesting because of the characters to because Carolyn Maloney has been representing New York for decades and Serge Patel is kind of positioning himself as a progressive alternative to her. Yeah. He positioned himself as someone who is he's thirty six years old Carolyn Melania seventy, four years old. He ran on sort of a general racial change kind of platform New York's Twelfth Congressional District Spans the east side of Manhattan, a big chunk of Queens and in northern bit of Brooklyn. Weeks after the race when winter still hadn't been declared. Jada realized the hold up. It wasn't just about one problem. There are two separate things going on here. There's there's the length of time that it seeking to count the votes and then there's these votes that are getting thrown out. Elections experts have told us don't worry if it takes a long time to count votes especially in close elections and complicated elections like we're seeing now but that's being thrown out that troubled Jada was found in her home district was a ballot invalidation read that's much higher in racine in recent elections like look at Wisconsin in Georgia it was well reported that primaries they are went a bit haywire this year. Wisconsin rejected one point eight percent of its mail in ballots. Georgia rejected three percent. But in the twelfth, district nineteen percent of Manhattan ballots got invalidated according to the preliminary numbers. And Brooklyn the number may be as high as twenty eight percent. You know in your reporting, you raise others you too which is that there district is the only one in New York in which absentee ballots made up over fifty percent well over fifty percent of the vote, which makes it an interesting place to focus because of course, going into November there's conversation about whether all of us should be voting absentee, correct. Yeah. That district it was forty percent in percent for sixty five percent. Male in and that was in large part because so many people on the upper east side and grammar see who are wealthy and a half second homes in the Hamptons left the city. But yeah, I mean it raises a lot of issues for November, where I'm doing a case study of one district in New York City where the turnout isn't even that high it was the highest turnout of any district in in the city. Like New York City has notoriously low turnout New York state with forty-nine. Fiftieth. I think at twenty nineteen. Turn some turn out like we're we're known for really bad turn out. But if you think about like what this means when November comes around when we have an election that is incredibly important to so many people presidential general elections are always a higher turnout than a congressional primary. So you're thinking of adding in almost double the number of ballots while we're in the midst of the pandemic. That may have a resurgence in the fall leading more people to stay home. And choose mail in voting what kind of kinks in the system will we not have worked out from these primary elections that are going to really blow up in November? You talked about how at the sort of vote tallying location. There's that first stage where folks look at the envelope and say, are we even GonNa win this thing? With this race between Carolyn Maloney and Serge. Patel. How many of those envelopes just like never got opened? Thirteen thousand. Out of sixty five thousand turns in. and. How much is Carolyn Maloney leading by right now? Somewhere in the range of three, thousand, four, thousand votes. So I think that it is probably true that she will pull this out. Because half of those thirteen thousand were invalidated because there's a missing signature and there's really no getting around the law on that. That the other half are invalidated. Generally because of a missing postmark which the Patel camp in his lawyers they argued in a lawsuit that that these are in validations that have nothing to do with the voter. That, there were miscommunication between the US Postal Service and the government and these ballots didn't at postmarked for a number of complicated reasons and. They arrived and we're just thrown out anyway even though the voter did everything in their power to. Follow the rules try to get their vote counted. In this lawsuit that Surge Patel. Part of. Really just highlights all of these little rules. Around. Absentee Voting that are complicated and that could go sideways in a few months when we're all voting in the general, like one of them, you brought up this rule that you have to sign your ballot and it may not be immediately obvious to you that you need to do that, and then there are also these little boxes on the envelope and it's sort of unclear like do I write there do I not right there it says for official use I official I mean I got a ballot and that's what I was thinking like, what do I do their guess nothing? Yeah you do the right thing because you had written in that box. Then you would have had your vote thrown out and I know people who did right in that box because they thought, oh, it's you know and the went online and they looked up their assembly district and they tried to fill out all the correct information. I think they thought they were helping and yet they were doing was getting their vote thrown out voting rights advocates would say okay. So there. That one is a design flaw and it's an education flaw that is on the board of elections to fix. I mean tell me about what you saw when you saw the back of your ballot from the photos that I've seen them. It's just filled with words and then like one line with an axe that maybe you'll notice. Whereas in California, they put a big red box around the signature. So you know it's like it's like they've done everything. They can't accept like put flashing lights like sign here or your vote won't get. You know there needs to be more education I mean I would suggest just like filming an educational video that you throw it on Youtube you try to make it go viral. This is exactly what you do to this talent and get your vote Count Ed. There's this other issue you raised, which is this need to be postmarked and I want to talk a little bit about that because. It gets into how even the people in charge of this process don't know a hundred percent they're doing because in the lead up to this election the governor was really clear like, okay. You can pop your mail in ballot in the mailbox on election day and you are good to go. But it turns out that wasn't really the case. Can you explain why? Yet well, first of all, there's a difference in messaging between mailing in postmarking. So you know you think that the deadline is June twenty third to mail something you think I can drop it in a corner post office box and I'm good to go I. Did I did my duty that it needs to be treated a lot more like your taxes really where you need to get in there and watch the teller host mark. This thing to know that it's happening which kind of defeats the purpose of not going into a building to vote completely. In New York Mail in voting got a lot more complicated because of how the pandemic disrupted the election schedule I, the primary got pushed back and then the presidential primary race was nearly taken off the ballot. Finally the governor declared that mail in ballots would be sent out to every city resident registered to vote. But by that time, the board of elections had just a few weeks to get those ballots out there. And getting them in the mail was a Gargantuan. Task for the Elections Board and the US Postal Service. What's happening is you have the governor making these pronouncements that the board of elections maybe can or cannot. Do according to their ability understaffing in their funding, and then you're also relying on this federal agency, which as we all know is just under extreme pressure, they had seventeen thousand employees who had to be quarantined because of exposure to the coronavirus because their frontline workers and then You know they are facing bankruptcy and they have a president who is constantly threatening to this mantle them. I mean anyone who gets meal nodes the mail delivery has slowed during this time. So you're asking both the board of elections and the US Postal Service to move mountains. I can hear that empathy in your voice for these institutions like USPS and board of elections. But. At least the board of elections in New York, they don't have a great history of managing elections like in the last few years they were accused of purging the voter rolls and so I feel like there's also this kind of gap and trust. For sure. Yeah. They were accused of purging voter rolls in two, thousand sixteen and the head of the board of elections was asked to step down and that person is still in charge. Yeah. There isn't a lot of trust that they can handle this and. Also their job to communicate with the postal service about what is going on and what needs to happen. The big thing is that when the ballots were sent out in a very nice gesture, they were sent out with postage paid return business class envelopes. So you don't have to put a stamp on it. You don't have to put a stamp on it, but this kind of business class posted return mail is not typically post smart. You know because it's free. So you just stick it in the mail and it goes to where it's supposed to go and there was obviously some confusion among postal service employees about whether or not they were supposed to be postmarking these things. So a lot of ballots especially in Brooklyn, which seems to point to one Brooklyn Post Office just not. Quite knowing what they were supposed to do arrived without a smart to the board of elections. After the twenty third, which automatically validate said. So, just to be completely crystal clear here. In the state out ballots to people with a business class return envelope so people didn't have to pay postage. They required a postmark of the day of election, but that envelope is not an envelope that you put a postmark on. Traits. Yikes I mean. Here's a question though, isn't that something that could be solved like couldn't the governor say okay? I messed up here. Clearly intention was for everyone to be able to vote and put these in the mailbox on election day that didn't happen. So I'll just invalidate this rule about postmarks. Yes. That consumer that's what can happen, but the governor has chosen to punt this so. I sent him numerous. Queries about this and I just got back from his office things that he said in press conferences and every time he was asked about this press conference, he said this is the job of the state legislature. Oh, boy I mean what really emerges listening to your reporting? Is just these layers of dysfunction. So I wonder now that all this has happened. I is it possible that Newark is going to? Get it together for November. I do think that New York could possibly take some of these lessons and implement them for November. I, mean the the thing is that this is just one district isolated within a very blue state and every state. Has a different set of laws and problems with their board of elections. I mean the New York City Board of elections and the New York state elections don't even have the same rules. It's a cautionary tale for November and it is a little scary. You know you mentioned that you had friends that you knew had filled in places on the envelope or the ballot were they weren't supposed to write. It made me wonder. Like what are you telling your friends about voting in November? How are you planning yourself to maybe vote? Differently next time you're doing it. Well I am as someone who's been out reporting on the pandemic for so long I guess I'm a little more risky and my behavior so I go in person. If at all possible but. There are these interesting. Yeah. I mean I'm I'm taking precautions I'm wearing a mask, wash my hands I. Don't touch my face I'm just I'm social distancing. I'm doing whatever I can to be safe, but I've always been someone who just felt. Better voting in person. In. Kind of. Eve reinforced by everything you've seen. Yeah I think. So like being able to watch my ballot be scanned was. You know I don't have the same concerns that other people do what? I did here was that people who dropped off the mail in ballots in these boxes that were at polling sites didn't have to deal with the postmark issue and those ballots were automatically counted. There are ways to sort of skip the line at a polling place, drop it off in a box and know that it's going into the pile that will be counted for sure sounds like you're saying just like. Cut Down the number of potentially dysfunctional. Agencies and organizations your ballot will encounter like if you can not deal with USPS. Great, just make sure your belly gets where it needs to go. You'll be better off. Yeah, and it does require a little bit more risk than maybe some people are comfortable with the night for them. I would say request ballot as early as you possibly can and hope that the fulfillment happens in a timely fashion. Jedi Yuan. Thank you so much for joining me. Thanks so much for having me. Jd You on covers national politics for the Washington Post. The absentee ballot count just wrapped up for the twelfth district. Incumbent Carolyn Maloney is claiming victory with thirty, seven, hundred votes more than Search Patel. Patel. Is Acknowledging that lead but he's not conceding. He citing those thousands of ballots that got invalid and he says he's still intending to go to court. and. That's the show what next is produced by Daniel Hewitt Jason Leon and Mary Wilson with help from Daniel Avis. We are led by Alicia Montgomery and Allison Benedict tomorrow. Make sure you tune into what next TVD Henry Durbars they are hosting with another. In his series on the future of the city. Thanks for listening. I'm Mary Harris, could you back here next week?