Despite early concerns over the changes to New York’s election laws for 2019, local commissioners regard this first run a success. Yates County Election Commissioners Robert Brechko (Democratic) and Robert Schwarting (Republican) say the first run in the local elections was not only a success, but was a valuable introduction to the new processes before 2020’s big election. 

Chapter 6 of the election laws of 2019 requires nine days of early voting in New York State, first applying to this year’s Nov. 5 general election. Early voting began in October, allowing voters to cast their ballots early and have those ballots count on Election Day rather than as Absentee Ballots, which are counted after each election. This applies to all primary, general, run-off primary, or special elections held hereafter. According to the state Board of Elections, $10 million was made available to county boards for reimbursement of costs related to early voting.

An earlier version of the bill was amended to allow smaller counties to operate a single, central, early voting site after commissioners all over the state joined in expressing their fears it would become a nightmare both in staffing and costs if the state applied the same requirement for every polling station to be open as they did for cities. 

The Clerk’s Closing Room in the Yates County Office Building was established as the one site, with sample ballots and an informational table set up in the main lobby. Election Inspectors were on hand to assist voters directly with the newly acquired electronic polling books and on-demand ballot printers. Election inspectors will also use E-poll books for maintenance of records at all 18 polling sites on election day itself. A state contract funded by $14.7 million in the budget financed the purchase of the E-poll books.

Schwarting says that for a county like Yates, the State overestimated the needs. “Nine days was two days too long,” says Schwarting, which impacted the staff’s ability to prepare for Election Day. “Particularly that last Sunday,” added Brechko. In all, 474 Yates County voters took advantage of the early voting option by the end of polling Sunday.

“The state set us up for twice as many (voters) as we needed,” says Schwarting. “We never had more than three people in line, and that was only at the beginning of the day when we opened the doors.” Schwarting also criticized the eight parking spots the state required be reserved for voters in the very busy county lot. Searching for parking and making their way into the building is included in the 30-minute voting window the state has set as a performance target for each voter to need to cast their ballot. “We could easily have done with four spaces,” says Schwarting adding that no voter came anywhere near that 30-minute mark.

“We’re very glad to have to have done it,” continued Schwarting. “We were able to set up the procedures and practice with the e-poll books. It became much easier being able to trouble shoot with the vendor for the few problems we had. It was a good trial run.”

Brechko and Schwarting both praised the efforts of the election inspectors, saying that comments from the public were all very positive. “They loved the process. We have a great crew, super people, but we could use another 20 of them,” says Schwarting, referring to the need for more poll workers to share the load in the 2020 election season.

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