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Erie County Board of Elections expects to finish counting NY-27 votes this week

Mike Desmond/WBFO News
Erie County Board of Elections staff scan a grouping of envelopes for counting, as the county has seen a surge in mail-in voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

New York's political primary election has been over for more than two weeks, but the long vote count is continuing at the Erie County Board of Elections, checking more than 151,000 paper ballots.

Absentee ballots have usually been a minor part of the voting panoply; those people who were out of town or couldn't physically get to the polls. Not this year, during the COVID-19 pandemic. More people voted by mail than in person.

Erie County has more than half of the voters in the eight-county district. Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner said even the weather has become something of a problem for the count.

"We're always concerned with moisture and with humidity," he said. "We did have our air conditioner go out on us, two weeks ago in the middle of counting, and it's still out. We've had to get new machines up there to keep the heat level down and the moisture level down, so that our machines will count them. But today's ballots ran through the machine very well."

The county Democratic chairman said it has been a good voter count.

"We started to get into some of the larger races in the last 24 hours," Zellner said. "The 61st Senate District we counted yesterday. This morning, we counted the 140th Assembly primary. We counted the 149th yesterday and we've begun counting the special election for New York 27 today. That's going very well. We hope to be done with it by late tomorrow afternoon or early the next day."

That 27th congressional race is complicated because there were different votes. That includes who will be on the ballot in November for a full two-year term and a special election between Democrat Nate McMurray and Republican Chris Jacobs for who will take the seat for the eight counties immediately. The seat has been vacant since Chris Collins quit before his felony guilty plea to corrupt stock dealing.

Across the country, elections officials are asking themselves: What happens in November if there is an avalanche of mail ballots in a presidential year? Zellner said in New York, mail ballots in November will be much simpler than the June primary election ballots. He is expecting a lot of mail ballots in the presidential election and there are restrictions on how soon the ballots can be counted.