Before the upcoming primaries and federal midterm, state and local elections, Yates County’s Election Commissioners Bob Brechko and Amy Daines are making the rounds at all the town board meetings in the county to report on the changes and challenges election officials are facing. Taking a simple and practical approach based on the proximity of their homes, Brechko, the Democratic commissioner, takes those towns in the east, while Daines, the Republican commissioner, takes those to the west. This is just one example of the non-partisan and well-ordered working relationship the two officials have made a top priority to cultivate and maintain.

One of Daines’ and Brechko’s most important joint efforts is to keep overall costs down for the county and towns in all elections, despite several changes proposed by the state and the very serious increasing need for cybersecurity. The proposal to enact an expanded early voting period would have a significant and possibly crippling effect on local budgets. The estimated cost would increase by $5,000 per election, but the planning, preparation, and staffing costs to implement and deploy all the polling places the current proposed law would require, will be considerably more. To reduce these, Daines and Brechko are joining with other small counties to request the state allow small counties to maintain just one early voting site at the BOE office before Election Day rather than require all the polling places be staffed. Another cost will be electronic poll books, likely to be required with early voting, which will add several thousand dollars more to the county’s capital plan. A presentation will be made to the County Legislature’s Government Operations Committee May 7.

One major cost that has been anticipated and incorporated into the capital plan is the replacement of the 18 aging electronic voting machines, now 10 years old and for which the extended warranties expire in 2020. The cost of replacement is estimated at $160,000, but may be stretched over several years.

With all these anticipated expenses, Brechko and Daines are joining with many other county commissioners across the state to request several cost saving measures be considered:

• Increasing voting district size to reduce the number of voting districts in each town, thereby reducing the staffing cost to man those polling places with four workers each. If the current limit of 1,150 were increased to 2,000, Yates County could go from 18 districts to 14, achieving a considerable savings in staffing costs. The current number was established during the era of lever voting machines that had limited recording ability and a slower per-voter time. There is a bill now in the state legislature to increase the size to 3,000; a number Brechko says would be manageable with the electronic voting machines.

• Combining primary dates in federal election years. Each primary in Yates County costs $26,000 to $30,000. Eliminating the September primary date and combining it in June would result in $55 million in saving statewide.

• Allowing county election commissioners to determine levels of poll staffing required, with a minimum of four, based on need. It has become increasingly difficult for commissioners to find willing paid poll staffers. The average age of their staff has been on an ever upward trend. The state recently allowed counties to split shifts from 16 hours to 8 hours, but that increases the total number of staffers needed. (see info box).

Some of the other efforts the commissioners have been making include:

• Working closely with towns’ code enforcement officers and assessors, postmasters, 911 dispatch and many others to keep voters’ addresses current and correct.

• Establishing an emergency plan for alternate polling places, and equipping the BOE’s cargo trailer as a mobile polling place, complete with handicapped accessible ramp and generator in case of power failure.

• Petition Completion Training will be held in two sessions; from 3-5 p.m. and from 6-8 p.m. May 17 in the county auditorium to train any potential candidates and campaign staff in the proper circulation and signing of petitions. RSVP to the BOE at 315-536-5135 to reserve a seat.