Absentee Voting Off to Bumpy Start in New York City

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New York City Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan at the central office.

Joel Berg is a registered voter in Brooklyn. By day, he’s the CEO of a nonprofit group called Hunger Free America, formerly known as the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

As a private citizen, he plans to travel to a battleground state to get out the vote on Election Day. So, he tried to take care of voting via absentee ballot at the Board of Elections on Tuesday.

It did not go well and Berg took to Twitter.

Speaking to WNYC, Berg explained, “I went to the Brooklyn office to vote. I filled out my absentee ballot application properly and then they told me the actual ballots weren’t ready yet, in violation of their own policies.”

State law says absentee ballots are supposed to be mailed or available in person at the BOE offices starting 32 days before the election. That was last Friday.

For the second year in a row, the city is printing those ballots for walk-in voters at BOE offices on demand, so they only have to print as many as they need.

The problem Berg faced is not everyone in the borough offices seems to know the on-demand system. In calls to the four other-borough offices, staff in Queens and Manhattan said they didn't have ballots available yet, while staff in Staten Island and the Bronx said they did.

New York City Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan said he has reminded staff in borough offices about the on-demand system.

Asked whether his staff understands it, he said, “I hesitate to speculate what people understand or don't understand but I can tell you from our perspective here at the general office that [the message] has been reinforced with the borough offices.”

The delay at the Brooklyn office means Joel Berg must make another trip there to cast an absentee ballot. He said he's determined to do so.

“For me, I will come back when they are ready if I have to crawl with concrete on my legs in a snowstorm facing lightning,” said Berg, “I will vote.”