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Niagara Legislature to examine ballot printing, polling places

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature last week created a special committee to investigate whether the county could save money by printing election ballots itself.

Also, the committee will examine the list of polling places to see whether any need to be changed.

The motions were approved on a nearly party-line vote. The four Democrats voted against the ballot-printing measure, and three of them opposed getting involved in the selection of polling places.

Since the county shifted to the state-mandated electronic ballot scanners, reams of paper ballots have had to be printed each year. Phoenix Graphics of Rochester, which has contracts with Niagara and 45 other New York counties, is paid about $100,000 a year.

“It’s an extensive cost to have it printed out,” said Legislator Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, who introduced the resolutions.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said ballot printing requires special preparation and state-mandated security measures that the county’s print shop can’t offer.

“We discussed it when we got the new voting machines. It wasn’t feasible at that time,” Virtuoso told Bradt, a first-term lawmaker.

The measure did not inspire confidence from at least one citizen. Edwina C. Luksch, of Newfane, said during the public comment period, “I don’t want any elected officials or their minions handling the ballots. What do you want, another Florida?”

The change to scanned paper ballots was indeed inspired by the disastrous recount of presidential ballots in Florida in 2000. It was meant to ensure a paper trail in case of a recount.

“It would be a complete nightmare for Niagara County if we did it in-house and something happened,” Virtuoso said.

The committee that Bradt proposed was to be Republican-controlled, with Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, or his designee joining the election commissioners of each major party. Bradt changed the measure to allow a Democratic legislator and Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, to serve. Ross caucuses with the Republicans.

Virtuoso insisted that the selection of polling places, by law, is made by the election commissioners, and Bradt acknowledged that.

“We’re always looking for new ways and efficient ways to deliver services to our taxpayers and increase voter turnout,” Bradt said.

“Polling places have been a problem,” Ross said. For example, in 2008, polling places in three towns – Lewiston, Wheatfield and Royalton – were changed between the primary and the general election because of assorted complaints.

Convenience of locations, handicapped accessibility, parking, lighting and costs have been at issue over the years in selecting voting sites.

Ross said the key word in Bradt’s resolutions was “analyze.”

“It could turn out to be nothing,” Ross said.