Covid-19 has changed almost everything in our society in someway over the last 3 to 4 months. As we’ve been detailing here at Decision Desk HQ, campaigns and elections have not been exempt.
Voters have responded to calls by officials to vote by mail as much as possible by casting record numbers of absentee ballots in states across the country. This, combined with fewer in-person voting locations, has placed tremendous strains on election officials and led to delays in reporting results and declaring winners.
Next week will prove to be no exception.
Results in high profile races like the Kentucky Democratic Senate primary, NY-16 Democratic primary, and the special election in NY-27, will be delayed for a week, if not weeks, as both states deal with a dramatic increase in mail-in votes.
Counties in Kentucky have until June 30th to tabulate and report their results under an agreement reached between the state’s Secretary of State and Governor. The state’s two largest counties, Jefferson and Fayette, have announced they will take the full 7 days to report. That alone would make calling a statewide Democratic primary race impossible. A full third of the state’s 120 counties have confirmed with DDHQ they will not release any vote counts on Tuesday. Another third plan to release results, and the remaining are unsure of their final decision.
In New York State a combination of increased absentee ballots and state law mean it will be a week before election officials can even begin to process and tabulate absentee ballots.
DDHQ has spoken to officials in several counties across the state and been informed that under NY law, absentee ballots are not counted until the canvas period, which begins one week after the election. In the past this has not usually been a significant issue as absentee ballots made up only a small portion of the state’s voted. For example, in the 2018 gubernatorial election 548,767 votes were cast in the five boroughs of New York City. Only 22,757, about 4%, were absentee ballots. Given the number of requests for absentee ballots, that percentage could be 50% or more of the total on Tuesday.
New York City has mailed out 555,075 ballots for the June 23 primary so far, per @BOENYC.
Perspective: The BOE received 29,928 absentee/military ballots in the 2017 citywide mayor’s race and 76,258 such ballots in the 2008 general election. pic.twitter.com/G4BU6TglsO
— Luis Ferré-Sadurní (@luisferre) June 17, 2020
The most watched race in the state will be in the NY-16 Democratic primary where long time incumbent Eliot Engel is trying to fight off a progressive challenger, Jamaal Bowman. The district spans parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, with the majority of active registered voters in the latter. According to officials there, they have already received upwards of 85,000 absentee ballots. While Westchester County is split between the state’s 16th and 17th congressional districts, 56% of the county’s registered Democrats are in NY-16.
Voters must postmark their mail-ins by June 22nd or drop them off in-person on election day. Ballots will be accepted if postmarked properly through June 30th, the start of the canvass.
New York State had previously had strict rules regarding absentee filings but with COVID those were suspended, and mail-in options encouraged by state officials. Considering what we have seen in other states with massive absentee participation, I strongly suspect a large minority of ballots cast in NY-16 and elsewhere in the state- perhaps even a majority- won’t be cast on election day or through the in-person early voting process.
A huge percentage of the vote that will decide these contests cannot be announced until June 30th at the earliest, likely later considering there are limitations on counting equipment.
This is simply the new reality of elections during a pandemic. Most importantly people need to understand what we are seeing now in places like Pennsylvania, Georgia, and now Kentucky and New York is the new normal. This is what we’ll be facing come November as well.