You show up to vote, but for some reason, your name’s not on the register.
So you fill out what’s called an “affidavit ballot,” figuring the board of elections will eventually find your name and verify your eligibility to vote.
But then later you learn that because of some kind of minor error or omission you made in filling out the form — an error inconsequential to the validity of your ballot — that your vote has been tossed out and won’t count.
That happens fairly frequently in New York state, where minor technical errors like this prevent citizens who are legally registered to vote from having their say in their democracy.
Among the reasons ballots can be disqualified are not filling out your previous address on the envelope or forgetting to write a political party next to the party affiliation box.
Candidates and political parties regularly challenge voter ballots based on these types of technicalities, hoping to influence the outcome of a race.
In a way, the state uses its vast bureaucracy of arcane rules and regulations as a method of voter suppression.
This might not be that important to you, until it’s your vote that’s disqualified or until a race in which you voted is ultimately decided by a handful of votes.
The practice of disqualifying voters is currently affecting the district attorney’s primary in Queens, where the candidates are separated by 16 votes.
Already, 70 out of 114 affidavit ballots have been discounted just because voters didn’t list their party affiliation.
For a state that’s been making strides to make it easier and more convenient for people to register and vote, allowing this practice of denying votes over nit-picky errors is a step backward.
One piece of legislation passed by the state Legislature earlier this year but not yet sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature would remove this obstacle.
The bill (A1320A/S3045B) states that if elections officials determine that an individual is legally entitled to vote and that that voter has “substantially complied” with the requirements of election law, the ballot would be counted.
Mistakes such as not providing a previous address would no longer be a “fatal defect” that disqualifies a vote.
Lawmakers need to push this bill through to the governor and he needs to sign it right away before any more votes are discounted and the outcomes of any more elections are placed in question.