The 2021 Bay Ridge City Council race was one of the most toxic local elections in recent memory. There was a lot of partisan misinformation going around. Some claim there was election fraud. Others claim the election was stolen. Radio Free Bay Ridge is dedicated to correcting the record, especially about voting integrity. Today, we’re focusing on the Absentee Ballot count. Click on the questions below to learn the facts behind common misconceptions about the 2021 City Council election in Bay Ridge.
General Election Fraud Claims
Yes. All voting safeguards were in place and worked effectively. No widespread evidence of fraud was found. The election was overseen by bipartisan teams of Democrats and Republicans at the Board of Elections, as well as observers from both campaigns.
Discovered errors ended up only affecting a handful of votes. They were not nearly enough to sway the election either way.
No. Brian Fox may have led in election day and early voting ballots, but he did not “win”. Brian Fox led by 200 votes on Election Night. That number didn’t include absentee ballots, which couldn’t be counted until November 15th due to State Law. As we saw in the 2020 election, as well as the 2018 election, Absentee ballots are important. Bay Ridge contains many homebound seniors, and COVID has encouraged many others to vote absentee.
Absentee ballots are not partisan. Both Democrat and Republican campaigns work to help their voters submit Absentee Ballots. The fact that some absentees come more from one party or another reflects the focus and strategy of each campaign. Some campaigns emphasize it more than others. For example, some supporters are likely to be overseas military personnel, homebound, or people out of the country (for example, on Hajj). Reaching out and confirming these voters have submitted absentees are part of many campaigns GOTV (Get Out the Vote) process.
True. At around 10 pm, Justin Brannan was leading by around 11 percentage points, with ~80% of polls reporting. From their election-night watch party at the Wicked Monk, the Brannan campaign declared victory. At 11:09, Brannan still led by 400 votes with 95% reporting. That lead began to shrink around 11:20pm. At 11:50pm, Brian Fox pulled ahead in the polls, increasing to a 200 vote lead (without absentee ballots counted). The next day, the Fox campaign also declared victory, and neither backed down until November 16th, when Brian Fox officially conceded.
The key cause of the confusion came from the NYC Board of Elections reporting results haphazardly. The percentage of poll machines reporting did not correspond to the ballot count. Poll machine percentages are often incorrect, but rarely by a margin this large. This meant that, as the final 4% of voting machines reported in, the ballot count swung more than expected.
Partially True. In a fundraising email, Brian Fox’s campaign used the phrase “Stop the Steal”. He put the phrase “Mail-In Ballots” in scare quotes. In short, he was attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the election.
Brian Fox has a long history of sharing debunked Election Fraud conspiracies, as we have documented elsewhere. However, it is unclear if he believes his own election was “stolen”. It is possible that he is making these claims to boost post-election fundraising. For every dollar he raises this way, it is matched by public taxpayer dollars on a 1 to 8 ratio. A $10 donation potentially can result in an additional $80 in taxpayer funding.
No. Neither the Fox nor Brannan campaigns asked for a recount. Additionally, the margin of victory for Justin Brannan was large enough that an automatic hand-recount by the Board of Elections was not triggered. The Fox campaign conceded (without asking for a recount) on November 16th.
Dead People Voting
No. It is important to recognize that human errors will occur when people cast tens of thousands of ballots. Systems are in place to catch and sort these errors. In the case of the 2021 City Council election, only two ballots came from supposedly deceased people. Officials caught both ballots. Neither ballot was counted.
Claiming that these two absentee ballots contained “votes” is incorrect. For example, even the NY Post went out of its way to put “votes” in quotation marks when reporting on the story. It is likely that one (or both) of these ballots did not contain a vote at all. The inside of the sealed envelope may have been blank, or not sent with the intention of casting a vote. For example, a family member may have returned the ballot via. mail with a note inside letting the Board of Elections know that the person had died.
No. A vast majority of ballots “from” deceased people are sent in error, according to analysis from the Brennan Center. This includes next-of-kin accidentally using the wrong absentee form, and not mailing in their own. Further, many people get absentee ballots mailed to them automatically due to ongoing medical issues. When these people die, family members are often confused about what to do with the ballots.
Further, some votes from deceased people are not in error. People can and do die between casting their vote and the day the election occurs. Other votes from “dead” voters have been clerical errors where election officials confuse voters who have the same name. In the case of the 2021 City Council election, there has been zero evidence of any voter fraud by either the Justin Brannan or Brian Fox campaigns.
False. The Brian Fox campaign objected to 500 absentee ballots. These ballots had already been approved by Democrat and Republican election officials. The Fox campaign did not claim these ballots came from dead voters. The objections were over technical issues such as possibly mismatched signatures.
Some voters have claimed to have gotten rejection notices for their valid ballots due to these challenges. Ballots called into question this way need to be “cured”, which involves additional verification and signed statements by the voters in question.
Impossible Claim. There is no way to know who someone voted for. The voting process is secret.
This rumor stems from a New York Post article. In the article, the Brian Fox campaign highlighted two (and only two) instances of ballots from “deceased” voters. The Fox campaign objected to nine other ballots. The Fox campaign claimed these nine votes came from dead voters in a fundraising email, but not in the Post article.
The Fox campaign implied was that these ballots were for Justin Brannan. This is impossible to determine due to all votes being private. The party affiliation of both ballots from deceased individuals was not specified.
Right-wing conspiracy theorists claim that only coordinated, large-scale fraud could be behind the ballots from “dead” voters. This is false because most votes from “dead” voters are caused by human error. Fraud is rare, and when it does occur, it is usually small in scope and orchestrated by individuals.
Extremely Unlikely. Numerous systems are in place to ensure invalid ballots are not accepted… and even the suspicion of one vote from a deceased voter causes so much attention that the likelihood of others “getting through” is statistically negligible.
If anything, the current NYC Board of Elections trends more toward rejecting valid votes (i.e. disenfranchisement) rather than accepting invalid ones (i.e. fraud). Past instances of this include the purge of Democratic voters from voting rolls in 2016.
Fake Absentee Ballots
True. This is perfectly legal and expected. All accepted ballots must be postmarked no later than election day, which ensures no foul play. We went over this process extensively in our episode Voting During A Pandemic.
The truth is that absentee ballots can take many days or even a week to arrive, and after that, must be processed and sorted before being marked as returned. Ballots sent from overseas or via. military post can take a while to arrive. Considering the presence of an Army Base in our district, it isn’t unusual to see ballots arrive many days after the election, considering that they must also be processed by the Board of Elections before they are officially counted as having arrived.
False. This rumor seems to have stemmed from Fox supporters being suspicious that the blinds to Brannan’s Campaign Office were closed after election day. They were convinced that this was intentionally done to hide voter fraud occurring inside.
Sometimes, a closed curtain is just a closed curtain. The chain of custody for accepting absentee ballots is secure and requires ballots be postmarked the day of the election, which are then delivered to the Board of Elections facility by the USPS. There would be no way for any fraud to be conducted within a closely-watched campaign office, even with the blinds closed… especially on a scale needed to swing an election. The best explanation is that, since the campaign was over, campaign workers closed the blinds. Campaign staff this year encountered a high degree of harassment, which also likely factored into the decision to close the blinds. That, or the interior was simply messy.
Hilariously False. Brian Fox’s campaign staff seemed to have gone on an expedition to find evidence of voter fraud at Justin Brannan’s office on Veteran’s Day. They found nothing.
They most likely only found boxes of hand sanitizer being stored at the front of his office.
Mostly False. On November 8th Brian Fox claimed to be “making sure that ballots are accurately counted” while Justin Brannan attended the SOMOS conference in Puerto Rico, and insinuated that counting was underway by reiterating his lead. As per state regulations, absentee counting could not start until November 15th, seven days later.
It is possible that Fox was referring to beginning the process of “researching” and challenging out over 500 absentee ballots based on the name of the voter, which is the only data he would have had access to before the count began. We are actively investigating this chain of events.
Update – 2/13/2022 – Radio Free Bay Ridge is still actively investigating the challenges made to ballots in the 2021 election. We intend to clarify whether the Fox campaign challenged ballots based mainly on the perceived ethnicity of the voters’ names. We will update this list once we receive independent verification of the events, and we are not taking either campaign’s claims on face value.