Lawsuit Seeks Remedy for New York’s Highest-in-the-Nation Rate of Ballot Rejection

Issues
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Close up of an envelope addressed to the New York Board of Elections
An envelope containing a voter's absentee ballot, New York, NY, USA, 23 June 2020. Photo by Ted Pink / Alamy Stock Photo.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and partners filed a lawsuit today urging a federal court to change New York State’s flawed absentee ballot verification requirements in time for the 2020 General Election.

New York has consistently had one of the highest absentee ballot rejection rates in the country. In the 2018 General Election, state election officials discarded more than 34,000 absentee ballots – or about 14% of all absentee ballots cast.

This is, in part, because the state does not notify voters and given them an opportunity to respond when their ballots are in danger of not being counted because of benign issues – like an omitted signature or a perceived discrepancy between the signature on the absentee ballot envelope and the one in their voter registration file.

CLC and pro bono partner Selendy & Gay are representing the League of Women Voters of the United States, the League of Women Voters of New York, and individual client Carmelina Palmer in the case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

When she moved to New York City, Mrs. Palmer, 23, was diagnosed with a neurological condition that causes tremors, which last for unpredictable lengths of time. Mrs. Palmer fears that her inconsistent handwriting might cause any absentee ballot she casts to be rejected because of a signature mismatch.

Even before the global pandemic, voters across the country have increasingly relied upon vote-by-mail as their preferred method of casting their ballot. Vote-by-mail ballots in New York are certain to surge this November and New York’s lack of adequate procedures to safeguard those ballots will affect many more New Yorkers.

This failure to provide absentee voters with notice and an opportunity to cure is particularly problematic in New York, which uses signature matching for absentee ballot verification. Signature matching is notoriously error-prone and cannot be properly utilized without clear, accessible ways for voters to cure their ballots and ensure their votes are counted.

All eligible voters should be able to have confidence that when they participate in an election, their vote will be counted.

Georgia is the 2020 CLC Communications Fellow