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With nearly 40,000 absentee votes cast, election results likely days away

Inside the absentee ballot count Wednesday at the Board of Elections service center
James Brown
Inside the absentee ballot count Wednesday at the Board of Elections service center

Inside an office park on Brighton-Henrietta Town line Road, the political fates of a number of politicians will be decided. This is where the Monroe County Board of Elections started counting absentee ballots Wednesday for the 2020 primary elections.

Republican Commissioner Lisa Nicolay said nearly 40,000 absentee ballots were sent in prior to the election. That large number is due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo loosening requirements for absentee ballots because of the pandemic. By law, the count couldn’t start until a week after the election, and Nicolay said getting it right takes time.

“We’re going to count every single ballot we have, including the local, the presidential and the special, and then we will release the results,” said Nicolay. 

Nicolay is hopeful the votes will be all counted by Thursday, but said it’s likely that final primary results will not be known until after the Independence Day holiday, even if they’ve counted all votes in some races. The wait will allow the board to carefully sort through all ballots to weed out errors.

Assembly candidate Sarah Clark was on hand to watch the votes be counted. Clark said that voting by mail could be a positive step for democracy and said boards of elections will be more prepared to do it in the future.

“It’s really allowed a lot of people, who we didn’t anticipate voting, to vote because it was a little bit easier and a little more accessible,” Clark said. 

Clark is ahead of County Legislator Justin Wilcox by about 2,000 votes for the 136th Assembly District seat, one that was vacated when Jamie Romeo was appointed County Clerk earlier this year.

Romeo was on hand herself, she’s in a close race with Jennifer Boutte for a full term as County Clerk. That seat was vacated when Adam Bello became County Executive this year. Boutte leads by a slim margin. Romeo is also in favor of a measure to alter the state constitution to allow more mail-in voting.

“Today is a great day for democracy,” said Romeo. “We are ecstatic at the high volume of turnout in voting by mail.”

One of the issues raised about this year’s primaries is the participation of at least one Board of Elections official in the campaign of Assembly candidate Ernest Flager-Mitchell for the 137th District Assembly seat. That seat had been held by David Gantt for the last three decades. Gantt, who died Wednesday, had announced in February that he was retiring.

Demond Meeks is leading Flagler-Mitchell by nearly 900 votes. Meeks filed a complaint that got at least one board of elections official removed from counting the votes. One of the officials served as the treasurer for Flagler-Mitchell’s campaign. Meeks said transparency in elections is a must.

“If the citizens pay your salary, it's only right that they know this process through and throughout,” said Meeks. 

Acting Democratic County Board of Elections Commissioner LaShana Boose said the Board of Elections acted swiftly to remove the person from counting ballots but said the Board of Elections is inherently political.

“Everyone in this office is affiliated politically,” said Boose. “So when we talk about campaign ties, at some point or another an employee is going to be connected to a campaign because they’re either a Democrat or a Republican.”

Boose said that state law requires everyone in the office to be a Republican or Democrat, and that the Board of Elections will continue to address issues on a case-by-case basis. 

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.
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