Op-Ed: I was a Disenfranchised Voter

Vote Absentee Ballot Election Word Mailbox 3d Illustration
Vote Absentee Ballot Election Word Mailbox 3d Illustration

Over the past 20 years, I’ve missed voting in an election twice, and both times I was ill and too sick to vote. And that’s not just November general elections—I’ve voted in every primary, special election, and run-off there was. Voting is something I take very seriously. So you can imagine how I feel right now when I say that I was one of the many disenfranchised voters of New York in the June 2020 primary election.

Manny Burgos

I would have voted in person last month were I in New York. Normally I split my time between New York and Puerto Rico. Since the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve remained in Puerto Rico as traveling to New York in the Spring was out of the question. I’ve voted absentee before (remember I take voting seriously) so requesting an absentee ballot was no problem. I was thrilled to hear that I would not have to mail the application to my county Board of Elections office, instead, I could fill it out and email it. I was even more thrilled that on May 16, 2020 I received an email confirmation. I sat back in complete confidence that soon I’d receive my ballot and send it back before the deadline.

Weeks passed and no absentee ballot. I emailed the Board and called two district leaders who tried their best to help. The deadline for mailing back my absentee ballot was looming, but never did I doubt that my ballot would arrive, so I continued to check daily. Each day I actually held out hope that it would be in the mail the following day.

My ballot never arrived. For the first time in my life I understood what it meant to be denied the opportunity to vote. Reading political news, I soon learned that I was not alone, that many people were reporting the same thing. That’s when I came to several harsh truths that were in front of me the entire time.

First, the Board of Elections was always going to botch this. Even in the best of times, they would not have been equipped to handle the massive amount of applications received, and these are far from the best of time. Second, things could have been done to mitigate the predictable debacle, such as extending the post-mark deadline, especially since the Board is just beginning to count absentee ballots.

Donald Trump has made false unsubstantiated claims that voting by mail is full of fraud and errors, but New York State sure is helping to prove his point! That said, it’s not too late to save the system for the November general election.

Of all elections in the four-year cycle, none turns out more people than the general election for President of the United States. Years ago, the federal primary (and subsequently the state primary) date was changed to June from September to prevent disenfranchising absentee and military voters in the general election by providing more time. We know that the COVID-19 crisis will still be with us in November. Time is the main tool needed right now when dealing with the crisis, and time is still on the side of the state.

Voter Suppression illustration from 123rf

With that in mind, the Board of Elections should begin accepting absentee ballot applications RIGHT NOW. There isn’t a good reason not to, and it should be announced immediately and promoted extensively. That gives the Board staff much more time to get organized and have a strong plan in place to get the ballots out. As soon as ballots are certified they should be sent out, and not wait for the fall.

An online portal for voters should be created to upload an absentee ballot application, generate a confirmation code on the spot, and allow a voter to notify the Board that their absentee ballot wasn’t received. This saves countless staff hours that would otherwise be used to acknowledge receipt of an application, and shift those hours to other absentee balloting tasks, such as mailing them out. 

Lastly, our government officials, district leaders, and other concerned citizens need to pound the pavement to promote safe, in-person voting. We’ve all had months of experience doing what it takes to be safe. We wear masks, we socially distance, we wash our hands, etc. Let’s go a step further in promoting safety by telling voters what hours are the least busy at a poll site. Find a way to promote in-person voting as a safe experience and it would take a lot of pressure off the board, hopefully preventing a repeat of what just happened. 

I for one will be in New York this November and will vote in person, and hope I never experience disenfranchisement ever again. 

Manny Burgos is CEO of By the Numbers Consulting Services Corp., a leading provider of outreach, compliance, advisory, and data gathering services. He splits his time between New York and Puerto Rico.