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Long wait looms for primary results <br> Paper ballots, write-ins in city may delay tally

It may be a long night for many candidates in today's primary elections.

In fact, it may be a long couple of weeks before results are known.

Erie County election officials say the use of paper ballots and an expected significant write-in effort in the Conservative primary for mayor of Buffalo may delay final counts in some contests for more than two weeks.

Paper ballots will be used in just under a quarter of county polling places because officials say budget cuts have left them with too few workers to set up machines.

Delays could occur in several outlying primaries for County Legislature, as well as the county comptroller contest, should it prove close.

But Primary Day also is expected to be a breeze for most voters, especially in areas outside the City of Buffalo. The lack of contests in many areas plus the ease of using paper ballots should decrease waiting time in many precincts.

"It will be simpler, with no long lines," said Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward. "The towns we selected for paper ballots were chosen in anticipation of light turnouts."

Paper ballots will be used in major suburbs like West Seneca and Hamburg. Also slated to use paper ballots are voters in Aurora, Boston, Clarence, Colden, Collins, Elma, Evans, Holland, Lancaster, Orchard Park and Wales. Voters in Buffalo and all other Erie County municipalities will use regular voting machines.

Ward said there will be no Republican contests in many areas. And in areas where paper ballots are used, voters will sign the book as usual, be handed a ballot and control card (to guard against ballot stuffing). Then they'll step aside to mark their ballot and simply drop it in a locked box.

He blamed the anticipated delays on the decision by election officials to transport the ballot boxes downtown for counting instead of asking election inspectors to perform that duty.

As a result, counting will not begin until Monday, because officials decided to count paper ballots, affidavit ballots and military ballots simultaneously.

"I think it will take us two weeks to do them all," said Ward, acknowledging the delay will impact fund-raising and other aspects of the general election campaign.

In the meantime, Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr said Monday that he and Ward have asked the Erie County Sheriff's Department to provide security for the ballots.

Sheriff Timothy B. Howard said security will be maintained in the same way as other paper ballots, including absentee ballots. He said the ballots will be stored in a locked room at the board, with one deputy keeping the room's one key. A surveillance camera will also be installed outside the room, Howard said.

Though machine votes will quickly determine the Democratic mayoral primary between Byron W. Brown and Kevin P. Gaughan, the outcome of the crucial Conservative contest will not be determined for several weeks. Ward said officials must conduct a detailed review of Republican mayoral candidate Kevin J. Helfer's effort to win the Conservative line via write-in vote. Brown is the endorsed Conservative candidate and will appear on the ballot.

The delays caused by paper ballots will also affect the general election for mayor of Buffalo in a different way. Two candidates -- Judith S. Einach and Eric Dietz -- have filed for independent lines. Einach seeks to run on the Green Party line, Dietz on the Not a Party line.

Though objections have been filed against both potential candidates, Ward said the board also lacks the personnel to process those complaints.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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