Missing Absentee Ballots Drove Voters To Polls Yesterday 

Many New Yorkers opted to vote in-person on Tuesday after requesting but not receiving their absentee ballot. Scores of others who did receive absentee ballots decided to vote in-person anyway, whether out of fear over not getting their vote counted, solidarity with ancestors who fought for the right to vote, or a multitude of other reasons.

“Somehow I have a feeling that it’s more likely to be counted if I do it in-person,” said Patsie Ifill, a Crown Heights resident voting at PS 161 on Crown Street, who did not request an absentee ballot.

Bklyner visited four poll sites in Central Brooklyn — three in Crown Heights and one in Prospect Lefferts Gardens — and interviewed dozens of voters, finding a diversity of reasons that people chose to vote in-person.

As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, the city Board of Elections reported 159,808 votes cast in the Democratic presidential primary in Brooklyn. It’s unclear how many absentee ballots this may include, but the current number lags well behind the 310,906 total votes cast in Brooklyn in the 2016 Democratic primary (the last presidential primary). As for the GOP primary, the BOE so far counts 18,472 votes in the race for the 11th Congressional District, compared to 21,472 total votes in the competitive 2018 GOP primary in that district.

Some requested absentee ballots, at various points over the past month, but never received one in the mail, and decided they still wanted to exercise their right to vote.

“I requested one but didn’t get one back,” said Ruben Santana, of Crown Heights, who was also voting at PS 161. “Neither did any of my three roommates.”

Data released by the city’s Board of Elections on Tuesday showed that the Board has distributed 209,776 absentee ballots to Brooklyn voters, including 207,749 Democratic ballots, 2,022 Republican ballots, and 5 ballots for the Serve America Movement. Only a small fraction of those ballots, 3,019 Democratic and 53 Republican, have been returned, according to the BOE data.

Gothamist reported last week that nearly 30,000 voters who had applied for absentee ballots had still not received them as of last Wednesday.

Those who did request and receive their ballots in the mail, but still decided to vote in-person, did so for various reasons.

“I wanted to vote in-person. It just feels better. Voting absentee feels impersonal,” said Zina, a Crown Heights resident voting at Medgar Evers College, who did not provide her last name. “My people fought and died for the right to vote.”

And still others did not request an absentee ballot at all, preferring to participate in person, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has diminished in New York.

“I like to do stuff where I can visually see the results,” said Michael Canaii, a 42-year-old resident of Crown Heights voting at Medgar Evers College. “I love to vote.”

That diversity of opinion reflects both the newness of widespread mail-in voting in New York, as well as the quick and relatively haphazard way in which it has been implemented. As with anything new, anxiety can set in regarding unknowns.

“I requested one and received one, but my roommate didn’t, and so I got nervous,” said Esteban Giron, a Crown Heights resident voting at Clara Barton High School on Classon Avenue.

Voters have reported various irregularities at polling sites around the city, including voters getting ballots for the wrong State Senate district, getting ballots without all of the elections they’re eligible to vote in, and even polling places being so understaffed that voters were recruited off the street to serve as poll workers.

Ronald Ross, voting at Clara Barton High School, said that he had attempted to vote at 6 a.m. when the polls opened, but that the poll site did not have all of the necessary ballots. “I had to go to work and vote now instead,” Ross told Bklyner after leaving the poll site at around 6 p.m. “That’s an inconvenience.”

Ross had voted with his partner, Jacqueline Richardson; both said that they applied for absentee ballots well before the June 16 deadline, but had never received them.

“We shouldn’t complain about Georgia,” Richardson said, referencing widespread outrage over voter suppression in the southern state, “because we are in the same boat.”

Nonetheless, everyone Bklyner spoke with said that they did not harbor any particular fears regarding coronavirus at the poll sites, and said they felt satisfied with the way social distancing was implemented at their poll sites, with wipes provided at the door, lines to vote incorporating 6 feet of distance, and voters not being allowed in without a mask.

“It was not as bad as I thought it would be,” said Shamar Walker, a voter at PS 161, who had applied for an absentee ballot but didn’t receive one.

Many anxieties and fears New Yorkers once harbored over the coronavirus, which has killed over 20,000 city residents, have been replaced by irritations.

“I would have rather had the safer option,” said Natalie Gabriel, who was waiting in line to vote at Fenimore Church in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, after requesting but not receiving her absentee ballot. “I’m just annoyed.”

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Ben Brachfeld

Ben Brachfeld

Ben Brachfeld is a freelance reporter based in Brooklyn. His work has also appeared in Gotham Gazette, City & State, and Gothamist. Reach out to him via email at benbrachfeld@bklyner.com, or on Twitter @benbrachfeld.

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