Democracy 2020: Erie County sees 96,000 absentee ballot requests and counting

Posted at 12:40 AM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-27 00:40:31-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Absentee ballots are in high demand and the phrase “record breaking numbers” is popular with boards of elections offices across the country. It’s the same phrase all eight Western New York Boards of Elections offices share this general election. Tuesday marks the deadline to request an absentee ballot in New York State and Western New York elections offices are preparing for a possible last minute surge in requests for ballots.

“We are strongly urging folks if you want to vote by absentee, do it now,” said Erie County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Jeremy Zellner.

In the days leading up to the application deadline, the Erie County Board of Election was busy fulfilling requests. As of Sunday, Erie County saw more than 96,000 ballots requests and more than 59,000 returned. The 2016 general election saw half that number of absentee ballots returned, which at the time set a record.

The deadline to apply is at midnight Tuesday and more absentee ballot requests are expected. Voters can also come to the Board of Elections in person, up to the day before the election to request to vote by absentee.

“If the primary is any indication we expect to receive 75% of the ballots back that we mailed out, so that’s a very large number,” said Erie County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Ralph Mohr.

Ballots can be mailed back, but both commissioners said the post office warned it could take up to 10 days to be returned. Absentee ballots can also be brought back to any early voting or election day site. Voters would not need to wait in line, but instead just bring the absentee ballot to the inspectors on site.

Boards of Elections in New York cannot officially start counting until after the election. At the Erie County Board of Elections that means 13 days after November 3rd.

“That gives time for our military overseas personal to go and get us the ballots back. At that point we count the ballots and we’re anticipating two-to-three days to complete that task,” Mohr said.

With help from grants, hiring of seasonal help and moving some part-time employees to full-time, the Erie County Board of Elections said it is ready to take on this “monumental effort.” Right now, the Board of Election office is processing the thousands of ballots that have returned.

Mohr estimates a final count of absentee ballots is anticipated by Thanksgiving.

Erie County voters can check the status of their absentee ballot here.