After a trying, stressful and – ultimately – successful time managing the Primary and Special Elections in June, Genesee County Board of Elections commissioners say they are reenergized and ready to tackle the national Election Day next month.
“We are full staff now and we’re prepared as we can be for the big one,” said Republican Commissioner Richard Siebert on Wednesday afternoon during a departmental review for the Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee at the Old County Courthouse.
Siebert and Democratic Commissioner Lorie Longhany recapped their efforts during the June 23 Primary and Special Elections for the 27th Congressional District prior to outlining plans for the Nov. 3 general election.
Calling it a “year like we have never experienced before,” the officials stated that the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-changing guidelines from Albany made it very difficult for their team of poll workers, inspectors and technicians.
Beyond the state-mandated coronavirus health and safety protocols that were put into place at 24 polling sites, the local election office had to send out 40,000 absentee ballot applications – paying for printing and postage both ways.
“It was a big expense to the county,” Siebert said.
The commissioners reported their deputies “worked tirelessly and seamlessly to navigate through each Executive Order, delegate job duties to various county employees who helped with the large volume of election mail and to run point on every aspect of this most difficult election, including post-election absentee ballot counting.”
Siebert said the technicians charged with preparing the ballots had to program the electronic voting machines for six elections. Unable to meet strict deadlines and without scannable absentee ballots, staff had to hand count approximately 5,000 ballots.
Longhany noted that the teamwork of election workers on both sides of the political aisle and the assistance of Genesee County employees – led by County Manager Matt Landers and Human Resources Director Anita Cleveland – enabled the Board of Election to fulfill its duties and provide all the opportunity to vote without unreasonable wait times.
“We received a great deal of help from around the county,” she said. “It showed how cooperation is the name of the game for us.”
Siebert said the four complaints they received were addressed “and satisfied with explanation,” while Longhany added that an issue at the 400 Towers senior apartment building at East Main and Swan streets has been rectified.
“With the COVID and (having a senior population), they didn’t want us there, but they’ve come back on line with us for the general election,” she said.
Both officials said they are prepared for around an 80-percent turnout of the county’s 37,000 eligible voters for the November election.
They reported that 4,000 absentee ballot requests have been processed thus far, and that training is ongoing for 200 poll workers to use new electronic poll books in addition to their other duties.
Siebert said the electronic poll books are advantageous in that “it will tell us if a person has already voted.”
Additionally, Longhany said the absentee ballots for the coming election will be scannable – enabling workers to count the 6,000 to 7,000 they expect to receive in a timely fashion.
In summary, the commissioners thanked the legislature for its support -- both financially and by providing volunteer hours -- to ensure voters have the opportunity to “exercise their rights and feel confident in the integrity of our system.”
In a related development, the Ways & Means Committee forwarded a pair of resolutions concerning “chargebacks” to the county’s 13 towns and the City of Batavia stemming from costs incurred during elections in 2019.
The first authorizes the county treasurer to bill the municipalities for $7,794 in charges for expenses during the early voting period of Oct. 26-Nov. 5, 2019. Those charges range from $233 in the Town of Bethany to $1,817 in the City of Batavia.
The second allows the county treasurer to bill the towns and city for $54,785 in charges related to training and per diem fees for poll workers, inspectors and coordinators during the local primary (June 25, 2019) and general election (Nov. 5, 2019). Those charges range from $1,470 in the Town of Pavilion to $19,450 in the City of Batavia.
Landers said the county’s real property department will notify all the municipalities of the charges this year with the expectation that the county treasurer will bill and collect what is owed in 2021.