BOE struggling to keep up with absentee requests, ballots

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: June 04, 2020 06:12 PM
Created: June 04, 2020 05:21 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — In an effort to make sure everyone who wants to vote in the June primary can, Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated that all eligible voters be mailed an absentee ballot application.

In theory, that sounds like a good idea since we’re in the middle of a pandemic and some are fearful to vote in the traditional way, but it has put a huge burden on our local board of elections and they’re struggling to keep up. 

The Monroe County Board of Election Commissioners admit they are drowning, saying in a statement, “after digesting Governor Cuomo’s unprecedented executive order to mail absentee ballot applications to every eligible voter in Monroe County, we concluded that our existing staffing model could not guarantee the secure completion of the Governor’s mandate and election law requirements.”

In the 2016 presidential primary, Monroe County mailed 6,265 absentee ballot applications. This year, they had to mail 257,000 and more than 40,000 people so far, have returned them requesting the ballots.  

Cristy Peck of Ogden is one of those voters.

She got her ballots in the mail over the weekend, but different races were on different ballots, mailed in different envelopes.

“So each ballot has three envelopes, the envelope it got mailed in, the envelope you're supposed to put the ballot that matches the number of that envelope and then another envelope you're supposed to put that into. I'm thinking how many trees are we killing here to do this election, it's crazy,” she told News10NBC.  

In Monroe County, some voters might actually get three ballots including the rescheduled presidential primary and special election for the 27th congressional district and the state/local primary.

Election law doesn’t allow them to be printed together.  

Both the democratic and republican elections commissioners ignored repeated requests for an on-camera interview with News10NBC.

So, News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke asked Monroe County Executive Adam Bello about it.  

Jennifer Lewke: "We've heard from folks who are getting two, three ballots in the mail, there's a lot of confusion around what's going on with voting this year, are you concerned about that?"

Adam Bello: "Well, certainly there's a lot more absentee voting this year than there usually is. That is why we have met with Board of Elections staff, we have offered to be as helpful as we can with the leadership there, filling positions."

Because the increase in absentee voting is due to the pandemic, Monroe County can use federal money to fund seasonal workers to help. Bello says he’s approved 22 positions. But, the BOE commissioners want more full-time, supervisory staff and the county legislature supported the creation of the positions too.  

While leadership argues about that, the question becomes how will the BOE keep all of this straight.

“Just because there's some hard-knuckle politics happening at the top doesn't mean that the staff underneath isn't a fully professional staff, understands their responsibility and able to do their job under difficult circumstances so the general public should continue to have faith in absentee ballot process, it's just a unique year,” said John Conklin with the NYS Board of Elections. 

Jennifer Lewke: "How do you ensure that the election is fair? That people didn't vote absentee and go vote in person or that they didn't vote early and then in person... how do you keep all this straight with so many options?"

John Conklin: "They won't get more than one opportunity to vote because before any absentee ballot is canvassed, the board of elections will check the election day poll book."

If you’re going to vote absentee, ballots must be postmarked by June 22, 2020, or dropped off at the Board of Elections at 39 West Main Street before 9 p.m. on June 23, 2020.

Another way to avoid crowds is to take advantage of nine days of early voting from June 13 through June 21. Times and locations are listed on the BOE website.

If you applied for an absentee ballot and changed your mind, you can discard it and vote in person instead.  

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