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Paper ballots in many towns add novelty, confusion to vote Plans to delay count until next week leave some results unknown

Voters casting paper ballots Tuesday, for the first time since anyone can remember, found the transition easy.

Now comes the hard part -- waiting.

The use of paper ballots will delay final results of many contests as long as two weeks, raising questions among voters and candidates alike about why nearly a quarter of Erie County's polling places could not use voting machines.

Board of Elections officials said county budget cuts left them with too few workers to set up the equipment.

But Tuesday, Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra called that "nothing but spin" to punish those legislators who have not supported the board's request for more patronage jobs.

"I suggest that the Board of Elections has created an artificial hardship to somehow spin the need for their requested patronage," Giambra said in a statement. "The Board of Elections must join the rest of the county government in cutting their expenses."

The more populous county towns, including Amherst, Cheektowaga and the Town of Tonawanda, were among the few areas outside Buffalo to have voting machines and tallied results.

Major suburbs such as West Seneca and Hamburg used paper ballots, as did Aurora, Boston, Clarence, Colden, Collins, Elma, Evans, Holland, Lancaster, Orchard Park and Wales.

Voters seemed to make the switch to paper just fine.

"No problem," Ray Cooley, 63, said after voting in West Seneca. "Anybody who couldn't figure it out shouldn't be voting."

Voters, like Cooley, signed in, as usual, then were handed a ballot and a control card, to guard against ballot stuffing. They stepped aside to mark their ballots, then dropped them, along with the control cards, in the lock box.

"It was different," Jennifer Spengler, 27, of West Seneca, said after voting in the Vigilante Fire Company on Main Street. "It kind of reminded me of school when we had mock ballots."

Spengler and Rob Cannon of Orchard Park said they would use either machines or paper ballots in the future.

"It doesn't bother me a bit. It's quite simple," said Rob Cannon, 40, of Orchard Park. "I was in and out in no time. Based on the simplicity of today, I would use either."

After the polls closed, the lock boxes were taken downtown to the Board of Elections, where they will be counted next week.

Counting will not begin until Monday because election officials decided to count paper, affidavit and military ballots simultaneously.

The Erie County Sheriff's Department is providing security for the ballots. The ballots will be stored in a locked room at the board, with one deputy keeping the room's only key. A surveillance camera also will be installed outside the room.

But Kathy Konst, a Lancaster resident running for Independence Party's line in a County Legislature contest, questioned the integrity of that process.

And one longtime election observer recalled how the paper ballots had been counted at the polling places in the past.

"I'm surprised they are not counting them at the [polls], because the candidates are going to go crazy," said Edward J. Mahoney, retired Democratic elections commissioner.

Voters like Carole Dwyer of Orchard Park suggested the change from voting machine to paper ballot provided some voters with a sense of uncertainty that may have kept people away from the polls Tuesday.

And if the crowds at the polling places would have been larger, Dwyer questioned how efficient the paper ballots would be.

"I wasn't sure what the paper ballot would look like, and it was very simple," said Dwyer, a high school teacher from Orchard Park. "But I hope I never have to use paper ballots again."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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