NY Board of Elections Appeals Ruling It Must Count Absentee Ballots Without Postmarks

August 5, 2020by Denis Slattery and Chris Sommerfeldt, New York Daily News (TNS)

NEW YORK — At least one hotly contested New York primary election is still up in the air thanks to a federal court ruling this week that readmitted thousands of mail-in ballots thrown out because of missing postmarks.

The Monday night ruling from Manhattan Federal Court Judge Analisa Torres mandated that any ballots cast in the June 23 primaries that were invalidated because of missing postmarks must be counted as long as they were received by June 25. Torres also ruled she will consider requests for the readmission of mail-in ballots without postmarks received between June 26 and June 30 if candidates can show that they could have an impact on the outcome of any given race.

That gives an electoral shot in the arm for Suraj Patel, a progressive insurgent who has refused to concede his primary battle against 14-term Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., whose 14th Congressional District spans parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

But, late Tuesday, the State Board of Elections commissioners announced they’re appealing the Torres decision.

“Given the totality of the circumstances here, we understand the desire to protect the rights of voters,” said commissioner and co-chair Douglas Kellner. “However, this will place a tremendous burden on the local boards of elections as they are preparing for the November general election and is highly unlikely to change the results in any contest.”

Patel, a plaintiff in the lawsuit that produced Torres’ ruling, is trailing Maloney by about 3,700 votes in an unofficial count.

If the Torres ruling stands, upward of 1,200 mail-in ballots that were tossed in Patel’s race will be readmitted since they were received by June 25 and only lacked postmarks.

Speaking to the Daily News on Tuesday, Patel said he first wants those freshly readmitted votes counted before he considers asking the judge to review even more invalidated ballots. In total, some 12,500 ballots were thrown out in the race.

“We’re going to stay in the fight,” he said. “First, let’s count these ballots, and then we have to still explore why thousands of other ballots are not being counted.”

Maloney, who has declared victory despite the outstanding ballots, accused Patel of giving President Trump ammunition for his unfounded allegations about Democratic voter fraud in November’s election.

“It is regrettable that my former opponent has become President Trump’s mouthpiece in disparaging mail voting by making unsupported claims of many thousands of ballots being invalidated when the true facts show a smaller number that had no effect on the results,” Maloney said in a statement.

In a Zoom call earlier in the day, Remy Green, a civil rights attorney who represented Patel and other plaintiffs on the lawsuit, suggested there may be other primary races in New York that could be flipped because of the Torres ruling.

“We’re aware of a couple of cases where there is a chance,” Green said.

Green didn’t want to name any particular races that could still be in play besides the Maloney-Patel contest. Instead, Green put out a plea on Twitter for concerned candidates to “GET IN TOUCH ASAP.”

Another election that could be up for grabs as a result of the Torres ruling is the race for State Assemblyman Steve Otis’ Westchester County seat. Otis won by less than 100 votes against challenger Meg Cameron in an election where more than 10,000 ballots were cast.

Cameron did not immediately return a request for comment.

According to Torres’ order, nearly one-in-10 mail-in ballots in New York’s problem-plagued June 23 primaries were thrown out.

The judge blamed “systemic failures” at the state Board of Elections and the U.S. Postal Service for the unusually high invalidation rate. USPS, in particular, was called out by Torres for failing to postmark ballots despite a state requirement that it do so.

In an afternoon meeting, the city Board of Elections moved to certify all the results from the June primary, but also instructed staff in each borough to prepare to count any ballots that qualify under the ruling.

“Respectful of the court’s decision, issued last night, our borough staff will proceed to prepare our operations to canvass any additional ballots while we await the state Board of Elections guidance as directed in the court order,” commissioner Patricia Anne Taylor said.

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, millions of voters across the country are expected to vote by mail in November’s presidential election.

Without evidence, Trump has suggested such widespread access to mail-in voting will result in the election being “rigged” for Joe Biden. On Monday, he pointed at the Patel-Maloney debacle as evidence for his uncorroborated fears, calling the New York primary “a mess.”

In a Tuesday briefing from City Hall, Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested it’s crucial that New York election officials get their act together ahead of November so that Trump can’t use logistical hiccups as fodder for his misinformation.

“The BOE can do better and must do better,” the mayor said.

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The New York Daily News’ Stephen Rex Brown contributed.

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©2020 New York Daily News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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