Metal or cardboard? The ballot box dispute for absentee ballots in Monroe County

Berkeley Brean
Updated: October 10, 2020 07:39 AM
Created: October 09, 2020 06:32 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — There is a dispute inside the Monroe County Board of Elections over the kind of box that absentee ballots should go in. The commissioners still can't agree and the election is in 25 days. 

Meanwhile, News10NBC found out the other major counties in New York already got their boxes for half the price. 


On Sept. 9, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered anyone can drop off their absentee ballot at a polling site during early voting days and Election Day. It's an end-around the mail concern.

In Monroe County, the parties can't agree on what kind of box to use and the boxes the other major counties have are sold out. 

The box favored by the Monroe County Democratic election commissioner wants is big, sturdy, double-locked and made by the local sheet metal workers union. 

The problem? 

Because Monroe County needs 300 of them, the bill is more than $127,000. 

Lisa Nicolay, (R) Commissioner, Monroe County Board of Elections: "I'm a republican. I'm a taxpayer. I think this is too much money to be spending on a one time use when we have alternatives."

Nicolay wants to use cheap cardboard boxes. 

Nicolay: "If I'm an election inspector and it's a cardboard box I can literally walk up to people and say, hey don't wait in line. Are you just dropping off an absentee ballot? Stick it in here."

But this box has no lock.

In Onondaga County, the board of elections bought canvas, locking ballot boxes. 

They cost $152 each. 

But it's already out of stock. 

Albany County bought canvas and metal boxes, each about $150. 

Rachel Bledi, (R) Commissioner, Albany County Board of Elections: "By the time we went to order drop boxes there was a nationwide shortage."

Rachel Bledi is the republican election commissioner in Albany County. 

Brean: "Would you use cardboard boxes to accept these ballots?"

Rachel Bledi: "Well the state has not provided any particular guideline regarding this issue."

The only guidelines in the governor's executive order are no waiting in line and no physical contact. In fact, the order doesn't even mention the word box.

Brean: "Would you use cardboard? Do you think that's secure enough in your opinion?"

Rachel Bledi: "Well, the question is—does it lock? Okay? And this is what really the requirement is. Is there a way for someone to waltz in and grab the ballots? If it doesn't meet that standard then it's not something I would use."

Nicolay says whatever kind of box they use, an election greeter will be by it all day long. 

The democratic election commissioner, Jackie Ortiz, wasn't available to talk to me on camera. On the phone she dropping absentee ballots off at polling stations is going to be a reality from now on and spending $420 on a homemade metal box made in Rochester is a good investment.

"They have to be locked and sturdy," Ortiz said. "We can't cast any additional concern and doubt about the safety of ballots."

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