After the pandemic struck, Kevin Forsyth, a resident of East Williamsburg, went up to his parents’ place in Connecticut to ride out the worst of COVID-19’s spread.
Anticipating that he wasn’t going to be in Brooklyn for the Democratic primary, he then filled out an application for an absentee ballot in May. But come June 23, it still hadn’t arrived. On primary day, he decided to make the two-and-half-hour drive back into Williamsburg to vote in person.
“It was pretty absurd,” he said. “But I know those primaries matter, and these races are tight. I wanted to show up for it.”
Forsyth’s story is one of ten Emily Gallagher, a candidate for the 50th District in the state Assembly, has collected to document absentee ballot irregularities during a primary amidst a pandemic. Despite voters reporting issues with absentee ballots, Gallagher remains optimistic that these votes will clinch her first position in elected office.
Incumbent Assemblyman Joseph Lentol hopes, however, that his 15% lead over Gallagher after in-person voting won’t budge. Tomorrow, the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) will put each candidate’s optimism to the test as it begins to tally mailed-in votes across Brooklyn.
Gallagher, a community activist in North Brooklyn, is basing her cautious confidence on a correlation between the amount of votes she received per election district and the amount of absentee ballot requests filed per district. The analysis combined existing data from the city BOE and data from NGP VAN, a voter database used by the Democratic party.
“We’re feeling really confident because it looks like the areas where we have clear leadership in the numbers are the areas that also requested absentee ballots,” she said in an interview.
Although Lentol, who’s been in office for almost half a century, leads Gallagher by a little less than 1800 votes, both campaigns think the race is close enough to have requested the state Supreme Court to provide judicial supervision over the counting of absentee ballots. They each have retained legal representation. (This is a relatively common request in most races.)
“While our campaign has a sizable lead, we understand that with so many votes still to be counted, we must all respect our democratic systems and ensure every voter has their voice heard,” said Lentol in an emailed statement.
Regardless of the primary’s outcome, Lentol and Gallagher acknowledge that the state and city’s rollout of absentee ballots has been less than successful. Lentol believes that it’s important that “we expand our vote by mail system for November and beyond.” And Gallagher believes that her efforts to document voters’ struggles with absentee voting will help future elections.
As for now, all each candidate can do is wait as results start to trickle in.
“It’s been pretty anxiety inducing,” said Gallagher. “But one thing I’ve tried to appreciate about it is that it’s given me time to reflect on the election without it being attached to an outcome.”