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Board of Elections seeking voting delay

JOHNSTOWN — The two Fulton County Board of Elections commissioners are in step with their counterparts calling on a delay in the state’s election process because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Republican Commissioner Lee Hollenbeck said Tuesday he and Democratic Commissioner John Zawadzki agree with a stance illustrated this week via a news release from the New York State Elections Commissioners’ Association.

“The main reason is it looks like the two-week [quarantine period] is not going to stop on [April 1],” Hollenbeck said. “Then we start another two weeks.”

Hollenbeck said early voting on April 18 is also in jeopardy.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “The governor is saying ‘stay at home’ and then ‘go out and vote.'”

Hollenbeck also called the coronavirus situation in New York City “bad.”

The New York State Elections Commissioners’ Association is calling for immediate action by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to protect the electoral process during the COVID-19 pandemic. Election boards throughout the state are risking personnel safety and health to prepare for impending primary elections on April 28, the release said.

“We are facing critical shortages of inspectors and polling places due to the ongoing public health crisis,” the release said. “Over the next week, BOEs 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.”

The association is asking Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to consider the following items by either Executive Order legislative action:

1. Postponing the Democratic Presidential Primary scheduled for April 28 to June 23. The release says fielding inspectors in the midst of this health crisis is dangerous and may be impossible. Traditional polling places may be unusable as they are currently restricted or closed to the public. Postponing until June will not only give us time to plan, but will ease the burdens on host counties budgets that are devastated by the COVID-19 crisis.

2. Amend 8-400 of state Election Law to allow for Absentee Balloting 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. At risk or vulnerable citizens should not have to make decisions on whether to exercise their right to vote or risk their health.

3. For all primary and special elections: Give wide latitude to the local Board of Elections to consolidate polling places and election districts to best operate the election.

“While we hope the COVID 19 crisis will be better by June, it is quite likely we will have limited numbers of polling places and inspectors even then. We need this flexibility to adjust to circumstances on the ground in our jurisdictions that may be changing right up until the June 23rd election,” the release said. “Acting on these items will buy us precious time and save our host counties significant amount of resources while also preserving the rights of voters and safety and health of Election Workers. Every day that we do not act makes us less prepared and wastes valuable time and money.”

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