Thousands of absentee ballots were being mailed out Friday in parts of Western New York. As expected, concerns for COVID have resulted in a sharp rise in requests.
In Erie County, the first of an estimated 70,000 absentee ballots, beginning with those requested by federal and military personnel now overseas, were to be mailed with the remainder expected to be sent out by Monday.
"In a normal presidential year, we would receive between 24,000 to 26,000 absentee ballot applications. And in a high presidential year, it would be 26,000 to 28,000," said Ralph Mohr, Republican Commissioner for the Erie County Board of Elections. "Here, we've received 70,000 to date and we're still 40-some days out before the election."
In Chautauqua County, an estimated 7,500 absentee ballots were going out in the mail, and more requests are anticipated. Norman Green, the Democratic Commissioner for the Chautauqua County Board of Elections, told WBFO they, too expect a spike in requests. And they also anticipate mail-in ballots will represent a significant portion of the vote.
"Four thousand was the previous record," he said. "Our estimate appears we'll hit 20,000 by the time the election rolls around. And we expect 55,000 voters to vote this year."
In Niagara County, Board of Election officials told WBFO they had received about 5,000 requests as of Friday morning, but were not planning to mail out absentee ballots until about 30 days before Election Day.
President Donald Trump, earlier this year, echoed an unfounded claim that a higher reliance on mail-in balloting would lead to widespread fraud. In Erie County, Commissioner Mohr said the system is safe.
"We do have a procedure in place where we record all the ballots as they're going out and as they're coming in," he said. "We check to make sure that nobody takes advantage of the opportunity to mail in a ballot and also show up at the polls, either on early voting or on Election Day, to vote a second time. And we have a number of security features in place to make sure that the integrity of the ballot remains secure, that it's still a very private process, and that the anonymity of your vote remains, and then nobody has the opportunity to vote twice."
Mohr notes that voters should look more carefully at the ballot this year, which has been slightly redesigned by New York State. He also recommends returning absentee ballots sooner, to help ease the burden on the postal service.
"One of the things that we also have in Erie County is the ability through our online portal to check the status of your absentee ballot request," he said. "You'll be able to see when your ballot request has been received by the Board of Elections, when the ballot's been mailed and, after you vote your ballot and return it to the Board of Elections, when it's been returned to the Board of Elections."