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Lots Of Voters In New York City Are Getting Mail-In Ballots With The Wrong Return Envelopes

Elections officials don't know how many people are affected by the screwup, which they're blaming on a vendor error.

Posted on September 29, 2020, at 11:30 a.m. ET

John Minchillo / AP

Workers process primary ballots at a Board of Elections facility in July in New York.

Elections officials in New York City are blaming a vendor error after an unknown number of voters who requested absentee ballots were sent return envelopes that contained the incorrect information of different people.

Residents in the largest US city seeking to vote absentee are required to return their ballots in a signed "oath envelope." Both the ballot and the "oath envelope" are mailed to the voter together.

But in recent days, voters in Brooklyn and Queens have complained that their return envelopes contain other people's addresses. If they were to sign the incorrect envelope, their ballot would be voided.

"Given we’re some 30 days from the election, I was initially quite pleased the ballot arrived so I could timely return it," Brooklyn resident Andrew Văn Brisker told BuzzFeed News. "That feeling turned to dismay when I realized the mismatched oath envelope inside was labeled with someone else’s voter ID, barcode, and more."

"A litany of questions ran through my mind, mostly dealing with all the ways my — and their — vote now might not get counted," he said.

You’ve got to be kidding me. My absentee ballot arrived today, and @BOENYC gave me someone else’s privacy envelope together with their voter ID, barcode, and more. This election’s already a disaster and we haven’t even started yet.

I received someone else's return envelope in my #AbsenteeBallot. I just got off the phone with an operator at .@BOENYC and they said this has happened to a lot of people. Double check your ballots. .@NYCMayor .@NYGovCuomo @Gothamist @nytimes @NY1 @NYDailyNews @nypost

"I applied online about a month ago for a mail-in ballot," said Joseph Bergen, a BuzzFeed employee who lives in Brooklyn. "I received it yesterday and found that the ballot inside was for someone else who lives a few blocks from my apartment."

"It also felt like the name on the ballot is very easy to miss," he said. "If I hadn't known this was a possibility I can imagine that I might have just filled it out and mailed it in not knowing the error."

Michael J. Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, blamed the error on Rochester-based printer Phoenix Graphics, which had been contracted to print ballots in Brooklyn and Queens.

"We are determining how many voters have been affected but we can assure that the vendor will addresses this problem in future mailings, and make sure people who received erroneous envelopes receive new ones," Ryan said in an emailed statement to BuzzFeed News.

"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," he said.

Representatives for Phoenix Graphics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Election officials are urging people who received the wrong return ballots to contact them to resolve the issue.

But when BuzzFeed News and Văn Brisker both attempted to call the number listed, we were unable to get through.

In what appeared to be an additional error, some voters in New York also received ballots labeled "Official Absentee Military Ballot" instead of "Official Absentee/Military Ballot."

The typo led to confusion among some as to whether they were allowed to fill out what appeared to be a ballot just for members of the military.

“There’s just mass confusion about these ballots and what people are supposed to do with them,” City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer told the New York Post.

But elections officials said voters can fill out the ballots with confidence despite the typo.

A message from The NYC Board of Elections regarding all absentee ballots

It's not exactly a shock to see New York City's Board of Elections plagued by errors this fall. The city's elections agency has been repeatedly reprimanded for voting problems, including for very slow ballot counting in this summer's primaries. In 2016, the city erroneously purged more than 117,000 people in Brooklyn from voter rolls, ultimately leading to a settlement and an admission of wrongdoing. In 2018, voting machines crashed across the city, frustrating voters and leading city officials to demand resignations.

President Donald Trump, who has sought to undermine public faith in voting by mail with unfounded claims that the widespread use of mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic will result in election fraud, seized on the latest New York City blunder.

On Monday night, he retweeted five tweets about the errors to his more than 86 million Twitter followers.

Susan Lerner, with the voting rights and government accountability group Common Cause New York, told Gothamist there should be enough time for voters to get correct return envelopes.

"Look, this is a stupid error," Lerner said, "but there is time to get it fixed.”

Matt Berman contributed reporting.

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