For those that actually went to their regular polling location, they would have seen face masks, social distancing protocols and free pens so we didn’t have to share.
But due to the pandemic, many voters opted instead to fill out an absentee ballot. In New York City, nearly 800,000 voters requested a ballot so they could vote by mail instead of in person.
That means many of the election night results don’t necessarily result in a clear winner, as there are margins of victory in a number of races that could flip once all of the ballots are counted.
For example, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney holds a slim 648-vote lead over challenger Suraj Patel. That district includes parts of Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, which means the ballots from three different boroughs could alter the outcome.
Queens had the local race this year that affected the largest electorate, with the borough president post in play. After the polls closed, Councilman Donovan Richards took 37 percent of the vote, while former councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley garnered 28 percent.
But at last count, nearly 90,000 absentee ballots from Queens have been received by the Board of Elections (BOE).
(In Brooklyn, BOE has only received about 20,000 ballots, or 9 percent of those they mailed out. Either those ballots never arrived or people just decided to vote in person, or more likely a combination of both.)
We talked to a source who used to work for a Brooklyn elected official who actually took part in counting absentee ballots during one election. In his case, they had to count approximately 2,200 ballots.
They told us it took a team two solid weeks working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to finish! They gave us some details on the process.
In their case, it was a general election, so it was a little more convoluted. There had to be representatives from both the Democratic and Republican party in the room, as well as a cadre of lawyers, and each ballot was heavily scrutinized.
Both sides haggled over any stray marks on the ballot and a voter’s intent, leading to a decision as to whether the ballot was valid and should be counted.
One curious thing they told us was that anytime one person involved in the process had to leave the room, say to use the restroom or take a phone call, every single person had to leave the room so no ballots could be tampered with, effectively shutting down the process for a period of time.
For a more recent example, think back to last year’s race for Queens district attorney, when Melinda Katz held a slight lead over Tiffany Caban. While that was a manual recount of all of the ballots, it took about a month, and the subsequent lawsuit dragged out an official declaration in the June 25th primary until August.
But if we go back to our source’s experience, if 2,200 absentee ballots took two weeks to count, the nearly 90,000 returned by Queens voters would take about 80 weeks – or nearly two years!
While it’s impossible to make a one-to-one comparison of the two, and surely BOE will have more people counting the absentee ballots and work to complete it in a timely fashion, it is still going to be a considerable undertaking.
And that’s not even taking into consideration the absentee ballots from the other boroughs.
And much like the Katz-Caban race, where even after Katz was declared the winner by about 50 votes after the recount, Caban filed a lawsuit.
In fact, our source said if they were working on a campaign this year, they would proactively file a lawsuit, including one arguing that voters who failed to receive an absentee ballot in time were disenfranchised.
Candidates had until July 2 to file a petition preserving their right to challenge any vote count. Which is exactly what Patel has already done in his race with Maloney, and we expect news of more legal maneuvering from other campaigns to come out this week.
All this is to say, the count of this year’s absentee ballots is going to be unprecedented, and it could be a long while before we have any definitive winners in some of these races.