Erroneous Absentee Ballots in N.Y.C.: Here’s What We Know

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When Rich Rotondo of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and his partner received their absentee ballots, they noticed their return envelopes listed wrong names and addresses.

He then asked a neighbor to check his ballot. “He opened it up, and his was wrong,” Mr. Rotondo said. “Nobody has the right one.”

Five weeks before Election Day, nearly 100,000 would-be voters are discovering that their absentee ballots contain some incorrect personal information. On Tuesday, Michael Ryan, the executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, blamed a printing error.

ImageAn absentee ballot, with personal information redacted, had mismatched names and addresses on the outer and inner envelopes.
Credit…The New York Times

The erroneous ballots began arriving in mailboxes as city officials were grappling with other worrisome news: Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday announced that the city’s daily rate of positive coronavirus tests had risen to 3.25 percent — a jump that threatens to disrupt the return of hundreds of thousands of students to public schools for in-person learning and the city’s plans to restart indoor dining.

[Read more about the ballots, and the significant uptick in the rate of positive virus tests.]

Here’s what we know about the errors:

In a board meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Ryan said the errors were limited to “one print run.”

My colleagues Dana Rubinstein and Luis Ferré-Sadurní said that so far, the mislabeled ballots seemed especially prevalent in Brooklyn.

“It’s appalling,” Mr. de Blasio said on Tuesday about the errors. The mayor does not control the city’s elections board.

The ballots appeared to contain other errors, too. For example, they instructed voters to “mark the oval to the left” of their choice, even though the ovals were above candidates’ names.

Mr. Ryan said the problem was caused by Phoenix Graphics, a commercial printing company based in Rochester, N.Y., that was hired to mail absentee ballots to Brooklyn and Queens. He said during the Tuesday meeting that the vendor would bear the cost of sending new ballots to potentially affected voters.

Sal DeBiase, the president and chief executive at Phoenix Graphics, did not reply to multiple requests for comment from Times reporters.

“The downside of introducing widespread absentee balloting is that once the Boards of Elections start contracting out the process of mailing, then they lose quality control and direct supervision of what goes on,” Douglas Kellner, the co-chair of the city’s elections board, told my colleagues.

City Board of Elections officials were encouraging voters to email or call a hotline with reports of erroneous ballots. But phone lines appeared to be jammed at times.

Merrily Rosso, who lives in Bushwick, said she called the Brooklyn Board of Elections twice in concern, but could not reach anyone. Then she called the New York City Board of Elections. There were roughly 80 callers ahead of her in line — so she hung up.

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The problems come on the heels of a primary election in June that was riddled with issues and delays related to an avalanche of mail-in ballots. The mislabeled general election ballots may also further undermine confidence in the city’s Board of Elections, and could buttress President Trump’s assertions that absentee voting is plagued with troubles.

“I’m worried because anything that confuses voters at this point or makes them leery of voting or suspicious of the process is damaging to democracy,” Sarah Steiner, an elections lawyer, told my colleagues.

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Want more news? Check out our full coverage.

The Mini Crossword: Here is today’s puzzle.

United Airlines may restart service at Kennedy International Airport after a more than five-year absence. [CNBC]

Some residents of New Rochelle, N.Y., say a rising number of stickers with racist messages have popped up on street signs and mailboxes. [NBC 4 New York]

The City Council’s ethics committee recommended that a Bronx councilman be expelled from office for repeated misbehavior. [New York Post]

The Times’s Sandra E. Garcia writes:

Last November, the internet fell in love with Tanqueray, a straight-shooting New Yorker who shared memories of her life as a burlesque dancer in the 1960s and ’70s with the millions of people who follow Humans of New York on social media.

Her tales were full of underground glamour and gritty city characters, as well as resilience and humor. She told of the time her mother kicked her out of the house for getting pregnant at 17; how she “got a scholarship to go anywhere in New York” and “chose the Fashion Institute of Technology, which I hated.”

The post was shared widely and received tens of thousands of comments on Instagram. But for almost a year, there were no updates from Tanqueray, whose real name is Stephanie Johnson.

Then last week, Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York, announced he would post 32 more quotes by Ms. Johnson, 76, on Instagram in an effort to raise money for her medical expenses and continuing care. The internet immediately rallied to her aid. A GoFundMe campaign started by Mr. Stanton for Ms. Johnson raised over $2.5 million dollars in a week.

In the new series, Ms. Johnson revealed bits and pieces of a life that took many unexpected turns. After leaving her home as a teenager, she did what she had to do to survive in New York City. The posts include recollections of her time renting a room at the Salvation Army and calling on the mob to intimidate her ex-husband.

Ms. Johnson is happy to use the peaks and valleys of her life to inspire others that may be going through a hard time. “If I had regrets,” she said, “I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

It’s Wednesday — make the best of it.

Dear Diary:

Last year in summer.
A man across the aisle from me
reading a newspaper.
On the back page in big enough letters
there was an ad
something about a poetry contest
but I had to squint
to read the fine print underneath
and I leaned forward maybe more than I realized
because when I glanced up
the man was looking at me.
Did I say
he was burly and wore a lot of jewelry,
a ring on practically every finger,
gold chains and a bright shirt, coral color,
and he was bald, I think.
The sort of person you might notice.
We had a brief conversation,
after which
I stared at my phone.

The train slowed for Union Square.
The man got up and stood beside my seat.
His rings clinked the pole.
As the doors opened, he said,

“Until this train ride,
I never heard of haiku.
Pleasure meeting you.”

Minding the gap,
he was gone.

— Jane Wallace Pearson

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