With the pandemic ravaging New York in April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the decision to allow all voters to vote by mail or absentee ballot in the June 23 primary.

750,000 ballots were sent out, and roughly 400,000 were returned by mail. But the paper ballots overwhelmed the Board of Elections, and some races weren’t decided until just this month.

What You Need To Know

  • State legislators held hearing to try and correct mistakes made in June primary before November

  • Due to pandemic, voters were allowed to vote entirely by mail

  • Counting those votes went very slowly, some races not decided until August

  • Officials: November will have higher volume of absentee votes, delays will likely be worse

Board officials were asked about the delays in counting those ballots at a legislative hearing Tuesday.

“They were handed really an impossible task on June 23,” said Peter Kosinski, a commissioner for the New York State Board of Elections. “Our election infrastructure in this state was built to have voters vote on voting machines.”

While other states allow voting by mail, New York was not prepared to adopt that system at such a large scale, with multiple issues arising, including ballots not arriving to voters on time, as well as ballots that were filled out but not postmarked.

Some have suggested a Dropbox system for November that would allow New Yorkers to drop off their filled out ballots instead of sending them in the mail.

“In effect, we already have the Dropbox program in that voters can deliver their absentee ballots to any early voting site or any Election Day poll site as an alternative to using the mail,” said Douglas Keller, a commissioner for the New York State Board of Elections.

As for whether the board can improve its practices for counting ballots more efficiently by November, experts warned that is unlikely.

“We anticipate four times the number of voters to turn out in November than turned out in June. With that kind of increased volume and if the absentee numbers hold, we could be looking at four times the number of absentees in November than we had in June,” Kosinski said. “Will that result in a quicker count? No.”

That could mean some elections don’t get decided until December or even January.

Lawmakers said the goal of the hearing was to find solutions and efficiencies.

“So this hearing today is about fishing solutions for the voters of the state of New York,” said Democrat State Sen. Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn. “They are who we are concerned about in today’s hearing.”

One of the other issues was that an unusually high percentage of ballots were disqualified by the Board of Elections due to technicalities and even inefficiencies within the U.S. Postal Service. The state legislature recently passed a bill that would guarantee more of those types of ballots are counted in November, but Cuomo has not yet signed it.


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