Local officials critical of primary issues, Board of Elections promises to do better in November

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Board of Elections commissioners held a press conference Thursday to explain some of the confusion and error from Tuesday’s primary.

Commissioners Lisa Nicolay and LaShana Boose admit Tuesday wasn’t perfect, and they said they’re open to ideas to change how they’ve been doing things. Among potential changes, they said poll workers could’ve used more training — but said they’re committed to fixing this issue, and others, before November’s general elections.

Among those issues: Long lines due to consolidated polling sites, lack of social distancing at certain sites, and incorrect ballots being handed out at some sites.

MORE | Primary election results: Returns on local races ahead of absentee count

Both Republican Commissioner Nicolay and Acting Democratic Commissioner Boose said they’ve fielded several calls about those issues.

On social distancing concerns, Nicolay said it wouldn’t be a problem if people were wearing masks, adding that masks were provided at all polling sites for folks who didn’t have one. She added that the Board of Elections would be looking into more spacious polling sites for the general elections, but said places like school gyms wouldn’t allow voting to take place there due to COVID-19.

Regarding ballot mix-ups, specifically at Baden Street, Boose said sites for both the 55th and 56th New York State Senate districts were combined into one — which led to some confusion. Boose said she doesn’t believe the margin of error in the 56th race was great enough to actually impact the results.

“I don’t believe it’s the margin of error in which some of the candidates may feel it is because when I physically got there it appeared that the poll workers were issuing the correct ballots to the correct voters,” Boose said.

Jeremy Cooney is a candidate in the 56th Senate district. He said many voters called him to say the race was missing on their ballots.

“This isn’t one specific candidate this is all of the candidates in the 56th Senate district that were omitted from a certain number of ballots,” Cooney said.

MORE | Absentee ballots, lawmakers leaving make for unique primary season

Both Nicolay and Boose agreed that new election training supervisors will help solve some of the issues.

“We’re really open to ideas in changing the way we’ve done things,” Nicolay said. “So I hope that we will get a better quality person. I know that might sound a little bit mean, but someone who is willing to take charge and step up and realize that when somebody comes with a concern that they let one of us know and it’s not just like ‘oh whatever.’ It’s important, take it seriously.”

Current New York State Assemblyman and candidate for the Democratic primary in the 138th district Harry Bronson said the ballot mix-ups are unacceptable.

“The Board of Elections had electronic files of every registered voter in Monroe County and they couldn’t look up people and find where they lived, and what district they were in, so they could give them the right ballot,” Bronson said.

The commissioners said there will be more polling sites come November, given how many people voted Tuesday. The Board of Elections will begin counting the absentee ballots, which they said is expected to pass 90,000, next week. They said only 5,000 absentee ballots were returned in the last Presidential primary in 2016.

MORE | Primary races await absentee results as Monroe County Board of Elections releases turnout data

Meanwhile, the issues at polling sites has been criticized by local leaders. Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart (D-21) called on Nicolay and Boose to resign as commissioners and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren took to Facebook to denounce the events leading up to Election Day, saying in part:

“What I’m witnessing today is a bunch of BS and all of the people that did not act in the best interest of voters need to be exposed. This was done on purpose to suppress the vote in the City. I said it then and I’m saying it now.”

Statement from Barhart:

“The pandemic created challenges for counties across the state, but news reports indicate only Monroe County and the notoriously-troubled New York City had extensive Primary Day meltdowns. 

Voters were issued the wrong ballots, voters didn’t receive all of their ballots, polling sites didn’t open on time, and workers were poorly trained. There were not enough polling sites. The few polling sites available did not accommodate social distancing. What’s more, not all voters received absentee ballots they requested.

What happened Tuesday was very serious, as it undermined faith in our elections and damaged trust in our democracy. That’s why Commissioners Lisa Nicolay and Lashana Boose should resign. Their respective parties should immediately act to replace them with competent elections administrators.

Nicolay and Boose have admitted they struggled with new election mandates and technology that was implemented last year. Their lack of expertise forced them to ask the legislature to approve six supervisor jobs to make up for their inability to manage an election.

We heard a lot of excuses at the Commissioners’ press conference today. We heard a commssioner say voters given the wrong ballots wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome. We heard them complain about having to send out tens of thousands of absentee ballot applications and ballots. None of this excuses what happened.

We deserve better.”

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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