It’s a busy day at polling places across Erie County where turnout is estimated to be high, and also at the office that oversees the process.
This is a high traffic year for voting, and Erie County expects close to a 70 percent turnout – about 420-thousand people at the polls. It’s more than twice as many residents as last year.
Democratic Commissioner of Elections Len Lenihan said people tend to want to be part of Presidential elections, especially those that could be historic. With so much volume, there were a few relatively small issues at different locations around the county.
“What happens is, typically, the ballots get jammed into the scanners that we now use, so it requires for us to send out a technician or one of our personnel to fix that up.”
Problems like jammed scanners have been getting resolved fairly smoothly, but early in the morning, another concern was raised, when Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced on his Twitter page that he was getting reports of polling locations asking all voters for identification. He wrote, “Only first time voters must show ID. No others need to show.”
Poloncarz was mostly right, as Lenihan clarified. He said New York State does not have a voter ID law, and staffers at the polls do not regularly ask for identification. However, it is sometimes asked for in the not-uncommon case of incomplete registrations for first-time voters.
“So when a first-time voter goes into the booth, if the inspector notices they didn’t have, perhaps their last four digits of their social security number, or they didn’t sign the book, originally they didn’t sign the application, they will try to finish up the application process,” said Lenihan. “But it usually occurs around first-time voters, and very seldom do we refer to that.”
Aside from minor technical issues and the point of confusion over identification, no police complaints or disruptions in the voting process were reported as of Tuesday afternoon.
Trends during elections are always a point of interest and, this year, Lenihan believes the high turnout at the polls may be thanks in-part to the 2016 election seeing more media attention than in any year before.
“All the tremendous coverage of this election – which far exceeds anything we’ve ever seen before – I think is going to drive people out,” said Lenihan. “Some people are mad, some people are happy. But no matter who you’re for or against, I think people are going to vote today.”
While numbers of voters may also be influenced by ongoing “Get Out The Vote” campaigns, Republican Deputy Commissioner of Elections Robin Sion said that is strictly a political function – something the Board of Elections does not participate in.
She and Lenihan also pointed out the increased use of absentee ballots – a method of voting they estimate is seeing increased use this year.
“We have, I think, around 26,000 people voting by absentee ballot,” said Lenihan. “We’ll be collecting those and counting those after we do what we have to do tonight to get the results out. But if there’s any close races, we’ll have to count absentee ballots to finish that up, and that’s going to take a couple of weeks.”
And as for the results – while the numbers on turnout of voters are generally tallied three times during the day, the figures on who voters cast their ballots for don’t get looked at until the polls close.
“It takes a little while for the machines to basically close down and come up with a result,” said Sion. “So then we’ll begin the process of finding the results from all election districts in the county.”
With the heavier turnout, Sion said that tally will take a little while.