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Manhattan Democratic primary vote count held up by mistakenly distributed third-party ballots

Photo by Mark Hallum

The monotony was palpable as masked city Board of Elections employees and canvas volunteers slowly made their way through the Manhattan ballots Wednesday with a manual count through dusty plexiglass barriers at tables.

The canvass of affidavit ballots began on July 8 at the BOE’s West 33rd Street office in the count for the June 23 primary election in which an unprecedented number of absentees was boomeranged back to the agency in all five boroughs.

Also sent back to the BOE? Serve America Movement ballots, hundreds of which were filled out by voters not registered with the obscure political party founded in 2017 and which made its way onto the political stage in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

There are only about 14 registered SAM Party voters in the borough of Manhattan, according to Deputy Chief Clerk of Manhattan Cynthia Doty.

“Somehow, because we had the ballot pad out there on the table, some of our poll workers gave it out to voters who weren’t registered with SAM,” Doty said. “That has to be voided and then we have to go get a blank ballot so that it’s two pieces of paper for that vote… It’s a lot of extra work.”

A state committee primary being the reason for the need for SAM Party ballots, Doty could not say off the top of her head how many had actually been handed out compared to the only 14 voters in the borough, but it was in the “hundreds.”

This is only the beginning of the tedium that can be absentee and affidavit canvases, which can be lengthy under normal circumstances.

Currently, up 125 staff at the BOE in Manhattan are going through affidavit ballots which are either deemed legitimate or otherwise by volunteer poll watchers before being scanned by machines in a different section of the large warehouse. Then they plan to crack open the absentee ballots, many of which will be deemed illegitimate, literally, on its face; if the envelope is improperly filled out, the vote will not be counted.

Doty says the borough’s staff may not be done with this process and officiate some races until the November general elections, which she anticipates could come with the same difficulties ensuing from measures to keep democracy alive in the midst of COVID-19.

By Wednesday, assembly districts 71, 72, and 69 had been audited.

Some of the highest numbers of absentee ballots received by the BOE was for the race in Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s district, which spills out of Manhattan and into Brooklyn and Queens. She faces an old rival for the seat in Suraj Patel, who ran against her in 2018. The final result will likely be known by the end of the week.

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