3 primaries strain St. Lawrence County elections budget, staff
Sunday, June 24, 2012 - 8:15 am

By CRAIG FREILICH

With three primaries in St. Lawrence County this year, the county’s elections commissioners face a challenge to stay within their annual allotment, even before the general election in November.

“It will strain the budget,” said county Democratic Elections Commissioner Jennie Bacon. “We didn’t plan for a third primary when we were planning our budget. Nobody did.”

To cut expenses, commissioners are limiting the number of polling places in primaries to one per town, since primaries are generally attended by a fraction of the number of voters who turn out for a November election.

“Consolidation certainly helps,” said Commissioner Bacon. “The more we can consolidate, the less it costs all around, with fewer inspectors and fewer places to deliver machines.”

“We’re trying to save some money there, with fewer election inspectors, but it’s more of a challenge to be certain that we comply with election law and not disenfranchise anybody,” said Republican Elections Commissioner Tom Nichols.

The total Board of Elections budget for the year is $1,050,638. The commissioners reckon they saved about $65,000 through consolidation for the presidential primary in April, and could see similar savings in the June 26 Republican primary for seats in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

The savings could be greater in the September primary for state Senate and Assembly and local offices, since any contests then will not be county-wide, and the cost of ballots and delivering machines will be lower with fewer places staging primary contests.

Right now, the only likely primary battle in September will be in the newly configured 115th Assembly District, which was the 114th District with the St. Lawrence County towns of Brasher, Lawrence, Hopkinton and Piercefield added. According to Nichols, three candidates are considering running for the seat now held by Republican Janet Duprey.

The primary in New York to pick a presidential candidate for the Republican Party was held April 24, with Mitt Romney winning handily.

On June 26, three Republicans from the New York City area -- George Maragos, comptroller for Long Island’s Nassau County, Manhattan lawyer Wendy Long, and Bob Turner, a congressman from Queens -- vying for the ballot spot opposite Democratic U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. And Republicans will chose between businessman Matt Doheny or business consultant Kellie Greene, both Jefferson County residents, to run against incumbent North Country congressman, Democrat Bill Owens of Plattsburgh.

In September, primaries for candidates for state, village and town candidates will be held, if more than one person from one party seek the same post. It is too early for nominating petitions for those races to be filed, so the full slate of candidates and any primary contests are unknown at this point. Any potential candidates are collecting petition signatures now, and can file them during the second week of July.

Next week’s U.S. legislative primary would have been held in September, too, but a federal judge moved that back to June after deciding that the September date would not give military voters enough time to get absentee ballots for the general election in November.

State legislators could have chosen to move their September primary to match the new June congressional primary date, but did not.

The Sept. 13 primary for state and local offices was moved from Tuesday, Sept. 11 by state lawmakers who cited the anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy as reason for the change.

What all these primaries mean for the Board of Elections in St. Lawrence County and others around the state is more work and more expense.

That means programming, moving and setting up the voting machines, sending out and paying elections inspectors, tallying the votes, taking in candidate petitions, and arranging for absentee ballots, for each primary. All the while they will be taking new voter registrations and maintaining the list of voters.

And all that is before “the big one,” the general election on Nov. 6.

With their “adjusting things to try to keep costs down, we’ve so far been able to pull it off and stay within the budget,” said Commissioner Nichols.

Another obstacle is the higher cost of the new voting machines, Nichols said, but they have a great deal of benefit over the old pull-lever machines.

“The purchase price is much higher and they’re more expensive to run” than the old mechanical machines.

“The paper ballots have considerable cost. But if there is ever any question that votes have been cast and counted as they should be, the paper ballots can be hand-counted. We can make sure there were no shenanigans, which helps our credibility,” Nichols said. He notes that no one can tell who cast any ballot.

With the old machines, there were frequently questions about how the votes were counted, Nichols said. “There was no way to be certain.”

“Now we can go back to the ballot box, pull out the ballots and count them.”

A complete list of polling places, one per town, for the primaries is on our web site at http://northcountrynow.com/news/one-polling-place-town-open-gop-federal-....