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Some political candidates won't be able to count their blessings until after Thanksgiving

Erie County

It's going to be a long November for some local political candidates in Erie County, with counting of mailed-in ballots weeks away and the final deadline after Thanksgiving.

Mailed-in ballots are usually more of a curiosity than anything else because the rules -- untll this year -- really restricted them to people with issues or who were out-of-town. COVID-19 changed that.

The Erie County Board of Elections has 83,000 mailed-in ballots, which will be counted starting Nov. 17. Meanwhile, they can be screened to find any problems and get them ready for Nov. 16, when they will be checked by the candidates.

Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner said this all takes time.

"We have a huge volume of absentees and we've got to pull any of them if someone voted in person. We've alread pulled any of them from early voting if they voted in person," Zellner said. "But now we've got to make sure that no one came to the polls on Election Day and also mailed us an absentee."

Apparently, some wanted to make sure their vote counted.

"We found a lot. There's a lot of people who requested an absentee, mailed it back to us and voted early voting," he said. "I think they just wanted to make sure their vote was counted on election night instead of waiting for their ballot to come in the mail."

That's why the actual ballot in its envelope is being removed from the packaging and checked for basics like signing the outside. Under new state legislation called the CURES Act, if there is a problem like not signing, board workers can call the voter and get the problem resolved.

"We've probably had 3-500 total out of the 80,000+ that we've received back," Zellner said. "So there's very few that have fatal flaws. We're going to limit the number of people that we're going to have the candidates have in here."

With a couple days before the deadline for arrival of mailed-in ballots, there are 11,000 in the 143rd Assembly District and nearly 17,000 in the 146th. The State Supreme Court district covers eight counties, complicating the count.

"We'll prioritize the districts that are closest and obviously the 143 is the (Assembly) district that looks like it's going to come down to the absentees, most likely, and then we'll head to the 146, because that seems the next one that's going to be close," Zellner said. "We've got the State Supreme Court race with Judge Martoche versus Greenan. That's going to be a close race coming down to absentees."

Right now in the 143rd, challenger Frank Smierciak is leading incumbent Monica Wallace. In the 146th, incumbent Karen McMahon is marginally ahead of challenger Robin Wolfgang.

Zellner said, overall, nearly 75% of registered voters in Erie County cast a ballot this year.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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