NY Lawmaker Proposes “Do Over” for Voters Whose Candidates Drop Out

[Image via petertheplanner]

A razor-thin primary for Queens, NY district attorney has led one local lawmaker to propose a unique idea: do-overs for voters whose candidates drop out before Election Day. Patch has more:

A Queens lawmaker wants to automatically reject votes for candidates who dropped out of a race — and give voters a do-over.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo has proposed a state requirement to reject ballots when voters select a candidate who dropped out before the election, he announced Monday. The bill, S.6618, says voters would be notified that their choice is no longer a candidate and get the chance to fill out a new ballot.

Addabbo pointed to the June primary election for Queens district attorney as a case where such a rule would’ve had an impact.

City Council Member Rory Lancman, one of seven candidates, dropped out of the race just days before the day of the election. He still received more than 1,000 votes.

“I believe a lot of voters weren’t aware of the change and still voted for him on Election Day, when they may have wanted to vote for someone else if they knew he was no longer an active candidate,” Addabbo said.

“With my bill, voters would get the opportunity to fill out a new ballot and ensure their vote is cast for an active candidate, or they can leave their vote the way it was if they please,” he added.

The New York State Board of Elections would be in charge with implementing the change if Addabbo’s bill becomes law. If passed, it would go into effect in 2021.

In essence, the bill would treat votes for a withdrawn candidate like an overvote or undervote. Here’s the relevant text from the legislation:

FOR ELECTIONS HELD ON OR AFTER JANUARY FIRST, TWO THOUSAND TWENTY-ONE, REJECT ANY BALLOT CAST BY A VOTER WHICH CONTAINS A VOTE FOR A CANDIDATE THAT WITHDREW HIS OR HER NAME AS A CANDIDATE FOR ELECTION PRIOR TO SUCH ELECTION AND WHOSE NAME APPEARS ON THE BALLOT. UPON REJECTION OF SUCH BALLOT, THE VOTING MACHINE SHALL PROVIDE NOTICE TO THE VOTER THAT THE BALLOT HAS BEEN REJECTED. SUCH NOTICE SHALL ALSO STATE THE NAME OF THE PERSON WHO IS NOT LONGER A CANDIDATE AND A STATEMENT THAT THE VOTER MUST COMPLETE A NEW BALLOT.

This is an interesting idea, but I can see several issues involved that make this problematic.

  • The notification would alert the voter and pollworkers about the content of their ballots in a way that is potentially more detailed than the concept of a secret ballot would allow;
  • The lawmaker’s statement notwithstanding, the bill text says a voter is to be told she “MUST” complete a new ballot; if the intent is to allow voters to accept the ballot as is, this should be specified and not left to implementing regulations;
  • Current technology available for notifying voters of ballot problems, even “simple” problems like overvotes or undervotes, isn’t always clear – and this notification will be much harder to fit onto a tiny screen, not to mention the challenge of programming in “drop outs” that occur close to Election Day when voting equipment is already programmed, tested and ready to go; and
  • What about voters who cast early ballots – do they forfeit the right to a “do over,” and if not, how do we notify them without violating the secret ballot?

Drop-out candidates are always a challenge for election officials and voters alike; many communities post notices in the polling place on Election Day notifying voters of changes to the ballot. But I’m not sure that setting up a last chance at the voting machine is the best way to do this. I’ll be interested to see if the focus on the Queens DA race leads to broader support of this bill; if so, I hope lawmakers are prepared to think more deeply about the challenges involved – and ask election officials if the preferred solution is the best way to go. Stay tuned …

[hat tip to @ElectionBabe on Twitter for flagging this story!]

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