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Every Vote Counts: Board of Elections Starts on Absentee Ballots

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

This story was updated July 1 with the beginning of the absentee ballot count.

A Monroe County Board of Elections employee opens absentee ballots and prepares them to be scanned and counted on July 1. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

The Board of Elections began July 1 to count the 78,474 absentee ballots received for the local/state/federal primaries, the presidential primary and the special election.

In-person voting ended June 23. According to law, absentee ballots cannot be counted on election day.

Candidates and the public can view the process, which is being held at the Board of Elections Service Center on Brighton-Henrietta Townline Road.

Bi-partisan teams open each ballot envelope, unfold the ballot and prepare it to be scanned and the votes tallied. Candidates can designate someone to observe and object if they think a ballot is being eliminated unfairly.

Official results and certification of the election will not occur until every ballot is counted, which is expected during the second week of July. Ballots are being tallied by legislative district, not necessarily by the office that is up for election.

The Board of Elections mailed 118,113 ballots for the primaries and special election.

The volume was far more than for a normal election year. But COVID-19 has made everything far from normal.

Voters receiving absentee ballots could vote in-person, and some voters reported difficulty with that process.

Confusion experienced at some polling places, particularly in the city, remained a topic days after in-person voting concluded and was addressed in separate news conferences later in the week.

First, Acting Democratic Election Commissioner LaShana Boose and Republican Election Commissioner Lisa Nicolay vowed to make improvements in time for Election Day in November.

On June 26, Democratic Minority Leader Vince Felder said the issue might never had happened had the Democrats been able to name a permanent election commissioner for their party. Boose had been the deputy commissioner under Colleen Anderson, who resigned in March to take a job in the administration of County Executive Adam Bello.

According to Felder, the fallout has put an extra burden on Boose, who has no deputy to help with a workload made more complicated by COVID-19.

Most voters wouldn’t be aware of the in-fighting among Democrats that has resulted in a lawsuit over how to select a permanent commissioner to represent the party.

But as for the situation on voting day, Boose issued an apology on behalf of the Board of Elections.

Because of COVID-19, voters could apply for an absentee ballot for any reason. That led to the board mailing 256,000 applications for absentee ballots and mailed 118,000 ballots for the presidential and local races. In some bases, second ballots had to be issued if voters did not receive the initial mailing.

As for in-person voting, the commissioners said that only 1% of eligible voters took advantage of nine days of early voting. The left a potential surge on primary day.

Nicolay and Boose admitted that poll workers may need more training. They also said that if physical distancing still is required, polling places may need to be larger.

Nicolay said the Board of Elections would do additional recruiting and look for workers outside of the usual demographic of retired people.

Boose said she and Nicolay toured polling sites and made corrections as they saw problems.
Polling sites were consolidated so people from different districts were in the same location. That, plus the multiple ballots for presidential and local races, could have led to some voters being confused.

Felder, in his news conference, said some voters who lived in the 56th District and voted at the Baden Street site received the wrong ballots. He said that when voters signed in, they were given a receipt for a ballot. He said an election inspector did not look at the receipt and gave out incorrect ballots. Those voters did not receive the ballot that had the names of Jeremy Cooney, Hilda Rosario Escher and Sherita Traywick. Upon realizing the mistake, the inspector was removed, Felder said.

Escher and her attorney, Carlos Rodriguez, said they planned to file a complaint with various state and federal agencies.

Felder said that most elections have some glitches and he said that 95% of in-person voters in this primary season had no issues.

Here is a summary of preliminary results in selected Democratic races from early voting and June 23 ballots:

137th Assembly

Demond Meeks has 3,122 votes, or 48% of the total, according to the Board of Elections unofficial results. Ernest has 2,248 votes, or 34.6%. Ann Lewis has 943 votes and Silvano Orsi has 178.

Flagler was endorsed by the Democratic Party and has the support of retiring Assemblyman David Gantt.

“The community has the last say,” Meeks said. “The community has the power.”

Flagler, who serves in the Monroe County Legislature, said that because of uncertainty over whether polls would be open in the pandemic, his campaign focused on absentee voters.
He said that whether by absentee ballot or in person, the key is to get people to vote. “What’s important is that people got to choose a person based off who they are and what they will bring to the community.”

56th Senate

Cooney has 4,087 votes, or 44.5%. Traywick has 2,654 and Escher has 2,431.

Escher said the confusion at the Baden Street site meant that Latinos weren’t able to vote for her.

Traywick said she believed she still could win, and the issue of equity in education needs to be addressed.

County Clerk

Jennifer Boutte received 13,356 votes, or 51.7%. Current County Clerk Jamie Romeo received 12,445. Romeo was appointed after Bello was elected county executive and she received the party endorsement.

“There’s not anxiety on my part,” Boutte said. “The voters showed up and spoke with their vote. At this point, it’s in God’s hands. What’s meant to be will be.”

61st Senate

Kim Smith, the only Monroe County candidate in the race, holds a 431-vote lead over Jacqualine Berger and Joan Elizabeth Seamans.

The 61st spans three counties. In Monroe County, it covers Chili, Riga, Churchville and parts of the city. It covers all of Genesee County and three towns and two villages in Erie County. The geography is urban and farmland.

“Diversity is not our challenge,” she said. “It’s our greatest strength.”
Smith won Monroe with 2,004 votes but finished second to Berger in Erie and Genesee (by one vote).

25th Congressional

Incumbent Joe Morelle recieved 17,418 votes, or 64.73%. Robin Wilt received 9,480.