Otsego County’s Board of Elections continues to prepare for an unprecedented surge in absentee ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The BOE’s Republican Commissioner Lori Lehenbauer and Democratic Commissioner Michael Henrici told the county’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee they have already gotten more requests for absentee ballots with seven weeks until Election Day than they had absentee ballots returned in 2016.

Because of the pandemic, the meeting was held Tuesday, Sept. 15, via Zoom and broadcast on the county’s Facebook page.

Lehenbauer said 2,490 people in Otsego County voted by absentee ballot in the 2016 general election while 3,373 people have already requested absentee ballots this year. Henrici said during the state’s federal primary in June, absentee ballot use was up 624% from 2016. 

“If it trends out the same way, we could see 15,000 absentee ballot requests,” he said. 

In response, the committee approved the purchase of a high speed ballot counter and a high speed letter opener at a combined cost of about $60,000. Lehenbauer said the cost of both items is reimbursable through the CARES Act. 

“Right now we count them by hand,” she said. “It takes several days to count them by hand.” 

The committee also approved a BOE request to fill two pre-existing temporary clerk positions to help process the ballot applications. The two clerks would work two days a week between Wednesday, Oct. 7, and Monday, Nov. 16, and be paid no more than $1,000 each. 

The committee also agreed to help the office facilitate the transfer or hiring or temporary drivers to drop off and pick up polling machines throughout the county. During the summer elections, the drivers were loaned to BOE from the highway department. However, the possibility of bad November weather means the highway department might need its staff, Lehenbauer said. She proposed hiring four temporary equipment operators at a rate of $16 per hour, for a total not to exceed $1,280. 

“I’d love if we could do it without the added expense,” IGA Chair Meg Kennedy said. 

“We were very fortunate last time,” Lehenbauer said. “We had a lot of other departments helping us out.” 

The actions Tuesday will have to be approved by the county’s Board of Representatives at its meeting Wednesday, Oct. 7.

The county will get its ballots this week and must mail them to military members and overseas residents by Friday, Henrici said.

Absentee ballots can be returned by mail, or can be dropped off at the Board of Elections office at the Meadows Office Complex at 140 County Highway 33W in the town of Middlefield or at any polling place on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Early voting is from Saturday, Oct. 24, through Sunday, Nov. 1, in Classroom B at 140 County Highway 33W in the town of Middlefield. On the Saturdays and Sundays, early voting will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, early voting will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Tuesday and Thursday, early voting will be from noon to 8 p.m.

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