County's budget woes reach into voting sites



Associated Press Writer


September 13, 2005


ELMA, N.Y. -- One woman who arrived at the senior center to cast her primary-day vote asked where the booths were. The inspectors motioned to a table atop which sat two cardboard partitions secured with duct tape. She was handed a paper ballot.


It is all Erie County could afford for about 20 percent of its polling places after a budget crisis lopped the Board of Elections' full-time staff nearly in half and did away with as many as 18 of 22 part-timers.


"Welcome back to the 19th Century in Erie County," Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward said wryly.


Without enough staff to set up voting machines, the Board of Elections opted for paper ballots in 13 suburbs. Voters in Buffalo, which had a competitive mayoral primary, used regular machines.


Ward said the paper ballots were assigned to towns anticipating light turnouts. At midday, there had been no significant waits or other problems, he said.


The challenge of counting the ballots was yet to come, however. Officials said that could take two to three weeks, leaving some candidates in the dark about whether to continue fundraising and campaigning for the general election in November.


A state Supreme Court judge earlier this month rejected the Board of Elections' legal bid for additional funding from the county to restore staff in time for the primary.


On Tuesday, Ward held out hope that the County Legislature would come through with money to bring the machines back in time for November, when turnout will be substantially higher.


If not, "we'll be counting in February," he said.


The county's financial squeeze also meant primary-night results would not appear on the county Web site, Ward said.


Republican County Executive Joel Giambra questioned the need for the paper ballots and said the county's fiscal situation should not have interfered with Internet results.


"I suggest that the Board of Elections has created an artificial hardship to somehow spin the need for their requested patronage," said Giambra, whose 2004 budget cut deeply into services and personnel. "The BOE must join the rest of county government in cutting their expenses."


At the Elma Senior Center polling station, inspectors had to show people how to use the paper while deflecting comments about "a return to the stone ages," said inspector Doris Glownia. But she and other workers found the paper, which voters dropped into a locked box, simpler to handle than the machines.


Sheriff Timothy Howard said his department will guard all ballots until they are counted. The ballots will be stored in a locked room at the board, with a deputy holding the room's lone key.


Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.



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