October 18, 2021

Association wants to change primary day

Cortland County Seal

Cards reminding people to vote in this year’s primaries and elections go out in the mail today, but election commissioners are unsure if the dates on those cards will remain the same.

“Everything is up in the air,” said Robert Howe, the Cortland County Republican election commissioner. “I don’t have anything definitive; it’s crazy.”

The state Elections Commissioner’s Association is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to, among other things, to delay the presidential primaries to June 23 from April 28 because of concerns over people gathering to vote at polling sites and spreading coronavirus.

“Election boards throughout the state are risking personnel safety and health to prepare for impending elections on April 28, 2020,” states a news release from the association. “We are facing critical shortages of inspectors and polling places due to the ongoing public health crisis. Over the next week, BOEs (boards of elections) will find it almost impossible to meet mission critical deadlines for testing machines and preparing ballots because of staff shortages due to the ongoing stay-at-home order.”

However, Howe said he is not for changing the date.

“The association wants to push it up to June, but you’re just making it more complicated because you’re pushing more elections into one day,” Howe said, noting he was only one of three commissioners who didn’t want to change the date.

He said he did not know who the other two commissioners were.

Cortland County Republican Party Chairwoman Connie White said she isn’t focusing on the April primary because “The April primary was for the Democrat Party candidates.”

“Republicans have their candidate, so we were not going to the polls,” she said. “It would make sense that if the governor nixes the April primary, then June 23 is the next best option. After that? Who knows, maybe we will all be voting by mail! Just a joke, the crisis will pass.”

Cortland County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Perfetti said he is OK with moving primary day.

“If it’s done for public health reasons, it makes sense,” he said. “The infrastructure is already in place.”

He said without doing this, it could “pose more of a risk to everybody.”

However, he said the board of elections would need to make sure that it can get the counts certified before the Democratic convention July 13-16.

The association wants Cuomo by executive order or the state Legislature by law to enact two other measures as well.

• Make absentee ballots available to everyone “during all times of declared state of emergency due to infectious disease or pandemic.”

“This will allow all voters who are at-risk but perhaps not yet sick to apply for and receive an absentee ballot,” the release said. “At-risk or vulnerable citizens should not have to make decisions on whether to exercise their right to vote or risk their health.”

Howe said the state Board of Election told his office to have additional absentee ballots on hand.

• Allow local election boards to consolidate voting places and election districts because some of the polling sites are no longer open and there may not be enough inspectors for every polling site.

“You got inspectors calling up saying no we don’t want to work,” he said. “If inspectors don’t want to work you can’t blame them.”

Howe said he was interested in consolidating the districts and have the county’s Board of Elections office be the one voting place.

However, he said they will follow whatever the directive of the governor is.

But whatever directive the state decides on, Howe said it must decide very soon.

“Our office is run on dates and times,” he said.