Officials were “trying to satisfy expectations of quick results with a new way of voting,” BOE’s deputy executive director said of the botched ballot count.

ballot marking device

Adi Talwar

A ballot-marking device at P.S. 94 in the Bronx on Primary Day. While some voters with disabilities participated in person and used these machines, others had to navigate the use of an absentee ballot that might have been hard for them to see, mark or mail on their own.

A failure to clear test ballot images in Queens prompted the city Board of Elections to release—and subsequently retract—erroneous preliminary vote counts in the June primaries, the BOE revealed Tuesday at a commissioners’ meeting.

The snafu was caused by dummy ballots leftover from an earlier test run, which were supposed to be removed from the system. This wasn’t done in Queens, according to officials, resulting in the BOE releasing an initial set of early results that mistakenly included the 135,000 dummy votes.

“As this full board of commissioners has said, the reporting error was unacceptable, and we apologize to the voters of our great city,” said Dawn Sandow, BOE’s deputy executive director.

Though the mistake only dealt with preliminary primary results, it’s the latest in a string of BOE mess-ups over the years. A handful of protestors with signs turned up Tuesday outside the building where the BOE’s meeting was being held, and a number of critics have called for reforming the agency.

Read more coverage on the upcoming 2021 NYC elections here.

State procedures mandate testing of all voting machines, Sandow explained. Ordinarily, this means that test ballots are run through each scanner to ensure that the machines are working properly.

When this testing is completed, the dummy ballots are uploaded to the election management system to confirm the results, she added. Normally, these images are cleared from the system when testing is complete, Sandow said Tuesday, but “in this case, procedures for clearing test data from the system was not followed in one of our five boroughs.”

The BOE later re-ran the data, the commissioners said, publishing corrected numbers last week which were largely aligned with the erroneous results retracted hours earlier showing Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams leading in the Democratic mayoral contest, with former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia closing in at second place. The count has yet to include more than 124,000 absentee votes, though, leaving room for change before.

The BOE expects to release additional preliminary results in city races—which will include absentee ballots—later Tuesday, a spokesperson said. Final results in the election are expected to be certified by July 14.

READ MORE: NYC Board of Elections Mistakenly Counted Test Ballots in Preliminary Ranked-Choice Vote Count

Officials were “trying to satisfy expectations of quick results with a new way of voting,” Sandow said of the botched ballot count.

This year marks the first time voters used a ranked-choice system to elect candidates for office. Typically, results are not released the way the BOE published them this year, in piecemeal preliminary installments, officials said.

“This is the first time in the years I’ve been here that this was done,” said John Naudus, director of the Electronic Voting Systems Department at the Board of Elections, adding that if the board had followed it’s usual procedure, the error would likely have been caught ahead of publishing.

“In other words, we were in a Catch-22: if we didn’t release numbers, they would have claimed — the newspapers — ‘What’s taking us so long to release numbers?’” said Michael Michel, a Republican commissioner from Queens. “And now that we released them earlier, then we got slammed for making an error which did not affect the results of any race, am I correct?”

Naudus agreed, adding that officials have implemented a number of other checks on the processes, both at the borough and board levels. The additional layers of oversight have forced BOE employees to work 12-hour days, Naudus said.

“Your staff and everybody should be congratulated — I’ll probably get beat up for saying that — I think everybody deserves it, all the way down to the poll worker, all the way up to the deputy director and director of operations,” Michel replied.

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