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We’ll know number of write-in ballots on Election Night, but don’t expect to know right away how many are for Byron Brown

India Walton and Byron Brown
File Photos
India Walton (left) is the Democratic nominee, while incumbent Mayor Byron Brown is holding a write-in campaign. The Erie County Board of Elections won't able to confirm on Election Night how many write-in ballots are for Brown.

The Erie County Board of Elections will report on Election Night roughly how many total write-in ballots were cast in the Buffalo mayoral race. However, it won’t be able to confirm exactly how many of those write-in ballots are for incumbent Mayor Byron Brown for several weeks.

So, if the race between Brown and Democratic nominee India Walton is close, it may be impossible to declare a winner on Election Night.

“I don't know if it’s going to be close or not, but I can tell you that we're prepared,” said Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner. He’s also chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee that’s backing Walton. “I don't think there's been a write-in campaign of this size, anywhere that I can find in the state in recent history.”

Starting around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, the BOE will report on its websiteroughly how many total write-ins were cast in the mayoral race, but confirming how many were for Brown will take hand counting. Zellner said that process may not begin until after the final mail-in ballots arrive on Nov. 15.

Brown figures to command the vast majority of write-in ballots, but there are other write-in candidates, such as Ben Carlisle. Not to mention voters who may write in people like Josh Allen or Stefon Diggs for mayor.

So, for example, if on Election Night it’s reported there are slightly more total write-in ballots than there are votes for Walton, that will look good for Brown, but his victory won’t be guaranteed until the BOE can confirm exactly how many write-in ballots are actually for him. 

On the other hand, if on Election Night there are slightly more reported votes for Walton than there are reported write-in ballots, Brown might still have a chance.

Some voters may forget to fill in the write-in bubble on their ballot, but still write down Brown’s name. Those ballots won’t be included in the reported Election Night total, but Zellner said he expects those ballots to eventually be included in the total once hand counting begins.

“There's a court precedent for that, and I believe those votes will be valid as long as they're in the right column,” he said.

Altogether, if the race is close, Zellner said it could very well take at least two weeks to have a winner.

So what’s a scenario where we could have a winner on Election Night?

“If, for instance, there are 60,000 votes and India Walton has 40,000 votes on election night, she's going to be the winner of this race,” Zellner said. “If it's that there are 40,000 write-ins and India Walton only has 20,000 of those 60,000, then it's most likely that the mayor will be re-elected. That’s the best kind of sample I can give you.”

The polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. on Election Day. The first batch of results, taken from early voting, will be reported around roughly 9:30 p.m. About 11,000 city residents had voted early as of Friday.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.
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