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Boards of elections need more funding, expect lots of absentee ballots in November

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media

The Onondaga County Board of Elections expects a large amount of voters will apply for absentee ballots for the general election. Mail-in voting made up about 65% of the total vote for the June primary in the county. That’s about 10 times the amount of absentee ballots they would normally receive. And it was the largest turnout for a primary the county has on record. But election commissioners do have concerns.

Applications for mail-in ballots were mailed out to primary voters this year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Onondaga County Republican Elections Commissioner Michele Sardo said as of right now, that’s not the case for the general election.  

“We’re not sending out applications for the general election,” Sardo said. “We’re doing business as usual.”

Things could change, but for now, applications for absentee ballots can be filled out online. Sardo said this past primary was very stressful for county boards of elections.  

“Every time you turned around, there was something new, some new legislation, some new executive order, that was changing everything on all the county boards,” Sardo said.

They don’t have enough equipment or resources to keep up with the demand for mail-in voting, Sardo said. It took them a long time to get everything sorted from the primary. There is some money left over from the CARES Act to buy another machine to help them count ballots for the general election. But she and the Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny both say there needs to be more funding for November, which Congress has yet to pass.

“The general election, the extra cost of absentees is going to be five times what we had in the primary and we don’t have any money to pay for that right now, which means it’s going to be a burden on the local boards of elections,” Czarny said.

Another concern among the election commissioners is that there won’t be enough election inspectors for November. There are classes going on now to get inspectors trained.

There were no issues of voter fraud from mail-in ballots in the primary. About 1,000 of the 26,000 absentee ballots were thrown out, mostly because they were sent in after the election.

Definitive winners may not be declared on election night in November because it could take several weeks to count absentee ballots.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.