Absentee ballots: a look at the number of requests in WNY and what voters need to know

Election Day is November 3rd
Posted at 7:30 PM, Sep 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-30 19:31:05-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Election Day is just over four weeks away, but thousands of Western New Yorkers have already cast their vote via absentee ballot. In Erie County, about 70,000 people have requested an absentee ballot so far and about 5,000 have sent back their vote, according to Erie County Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner.

The 70,000 requests is more than double the absentee ballot requests in 2016.

Erie County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Ralph Mohr said Tuesday night's presidential debate appears to have more than tripled the daily number of absentee ballot requests the county receives. Mohr said the typical request during a 24 hour period is 750-1,200 ballots, but the office received more than 3,866 requests for absentee ballots on Wednesday.

Here are important deadlines for the November 3rd election.

Registered voters can request a ballot online here, or mail in a request postmarked by October 27th. Zellner said the sooner the better, including when it comes to mailing back your ballot after receiving it.

“We’re asking people to turn around their mailer immediately," Zellner said. "As soon as they get their ballot they should fill it out, seal it back up, and put it right in the mail if they’re going to utilize the postal service. The postal service is telling us to give at least a week or two to get it here.”

He added that a key thing to remember is dating and signing the inner envelope. Voters who send in an absentee ballot could still vote in person, the Board of Election does not open absentee ballots until after Election Day and will remove the absentee ballot if someone voted in-person, according to Zellner.

Mohr said the Board of Elections is aiming to process requests and mail ballots within 48 hours.

This is a breakdown of absentee ballot numbers in our area up to this point, according to the respective Board of Election offices:

  • Allegany County
    • 2020 requests: 2,563
      • Votes returned: 9
    • 2016 requests: 1,352
  • Cattaraugus County
    • 2020 requests: 3,596
      • Votes returned: 564
    • 2016 requests: ~2,200
  • Chautauqua County
    • 2020 requests: 8,998
      • Votes returned: 3598
    • 2016 requests: 2,984
  • Erie County
    • 2020 requests: ~70,000
      • Votes returned: ~5,000
    • 2016 requests: `~27,000
  • Niagara County
    • 2020 requests: 11,686
      • Votes returned: 19 (Board of Elections said majority of ballots to be sent out Thursday)
    • 2016 requests: 5,195
  • Orleans County
    • 2020 requests: 2,108
      • Votes returned: 177
    • 2016 requests: 952
  • Wyoming County
    • 2020 requests: 1,556
      • Votes returned: 27
    • 2016 requests: 997

Genesee County has not yet returned our request for numbers.

Four counties on the list have double the amount of absentee ballot requests this year compared to 2016.

All registered voters in New York can request an absentee ballot due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

In New York City, nearly 100,000 voters received absentee ballots with the wrong name and address on the return envelope. The New York City Board of Elections said the issue was with the company that prints and mails their ballots.

According to the Associated Press, the company is Phoenix Graphics, which is based in Rochester.

Niagara County uses the same company to send out its ballots, according to the county's Republican Elections Commissioner Jennifer Sandonato. The commissioner told 7 Eyewitness News they spoke with Phoenix Graphics who said the problem was with one machine and operator, and isolated to two downstate counties. The company added that the problem was addressed.

The commissioner said she is confident there won't be an issue, and that the county has used Phoenix Graphics in past elections.

Allegany and Cattaraugus counties tell 7 Eyewitness News they use the company to print the absentee ballots, but they stuff and send the envelopes themselves.

Erie County does not use the company.

Voters in Erie County can drop off absentee ballots at the Erie County Board of Elections on or before Election Day, at one of the county's 37 early voting sites, or at a polling site on Election Day, if they choose not to mail back their ballot.

Zellner said in-person voting, both at early voting sites and on Election Day, will be safe.