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Elections commissioner helps register voters, but saving souls is her calling

LOCKPORT - Lora A. Allen relies on two books to guide her through her days.

As Democratic commissioner for the Niagara County Board of Elections, Allen keeps the massive New York State Election Law book within easy reach of her desk in her office at 111 Main St.,in Lockport.

But as a lifelong Christian and a current associate minister at Bethany Baptist Church in Niagara Falls, the book she leans on 24/7 - especially in these hectic days leading up to the Presidential election - is the Bible.

“This (commissioner) is my day job, but that (associate minister) is my calling,” she said. “I feel I’m here by divine appointment.”

Allen also has a penchant for public speaking, and has served as a keynote speaker for the Mount St. Mary’s Conference on Health Care for Women, conducted workshops for the YWCA and addressed female inmates at the county jail.

But these days, the focus is on the general election, set for Nov. 8. Allen recently was reappointed by the county Democratic committee and is awaiting confirmation by the Niagara County Legislature for another 2-year term, along with Republican Elections Commissioner Jennifer A. Fronczak. The two women and their staffs are gearing up for a very busy time,

“This will be a pretty hot election -- most presidential elections are,” Allen said. “Some people only vote every four years, for the president … The county even hires two extra people for our office for three months -- just for presidential election years -- to handle edits, and other things we don’t have time to do.”

The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 8, and it’s not too late to register to vote -- if you act quickly.

Allen recently took some time to talk about voter registration, voter statistics across Niagara County, what led her to this post, and her future plans.

How can New York State residents still register to vote in this upcoming Nov. 8 election?

You can pick up a voter registration application at a number of places, like your library, post office, or town or city hall, or find it on our website, www.elections.niagara.ny.us, or the state website (https://www.elections.ny.gov). People who don’t have a computer or can’t get out can call us at (716) 438-4041 or (716) 438-4040 and we will mail one to you. But, the registration has to be postmarked by Oct. 14 if you’re mailing it back to us, and we have to receive it by October 19.

Also, the state has a local individual registration day this year and our office will be open from 1 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15. The state holds this local registration only once every four years, during presidential elections.

What do you need to have with you to register, and is it free?

It’s absolutely free and you just need identification with your address, but it doesn’t have to be photo ID. It can even be an electric bill or telephone bill. Of course, you have to be a U.S. citizen and 18 and live in Niagara County for at least 30 days.

What will the application ask?

Your name, address, age, last four digits of your Social Security number or driver’s license number, and party affiliation, if you want. You would only need a party affiliation to vote in a primary, not a general election. And then you just have to sign the application.

What if someone needs an absentee ballot application?

They would get an absentee ballot application here at our office or download one from our website or the state’s website and as soon as they send it to us, with the address that tells us where they want us to send the ballot, we will. We have a lot of snowbirds, for example, so we send a lot of absentee ballots to Florida.

Nov. 7 is the deadline to postmark the absentee ballot to us and we must receive it by Nov. 15. For those in the military, the postmark deadline is Nov. 21.

How many registered voters are there in Niagara County?

We have 127,326 registered voters, with 67,524 women and 59,802 men. Now, that’s just today, mind you, and it may change tomorrow.

We have 51,055 Democrats, and that includes 29,702 women and 21,353 men. We have 42,087 Republicans, with 20,712 women and 21,375 men. We also have 3,097 Conservatives, 6,438 Independents, and 21,752 voters who are not affiliated with a party.

We also have the Green Party, Working Families, Women’s Equality and Reform parties and then a few other parties that the state doesn’t recognize, but the members can still vote in the general election.

How large is the board of elections staff?

We have 14 full-time and part-time, and that includes the two commissioners.

How many election inspectors do you have?

We have 180 districts in Niagara County and four inspectors working at any time at each polling district -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- for 720 inspectors total. We have a permanent list and an alternate list. Some have been with us 30 or 40 years. We can always use new inspectors, especially younger folks. You have to be certified and we have a class in the summer for that, and then we have a class on the machine just before the election.

What will the upcoming election cost the county?

We don’t know yet, but in 2012, it was about $250,000. We pay the inspectors $180 each for election day, plus $25 for the certification class, so that’s $205 apiece. Then, we have what we call ‘runners,’ who earn $10 extra, who take the cards to the clerks, and, once the polls close, that information gets uploaded into our system. And, we have to pay some of the places to hold elections, like lodges or fire halls -- and their bills will come in after the election.

How long have you worked for the county Board of Elections?

For about 15 years, so this isn’t my first presidential election. I was the deputy commissioner for 10 years and when Nancy Smith retired, I stepped up into the position.

What did you do prior to this?

I was a teacher’s aide for five years for Orleans-Niagara BOCES. Before that, my husband, Raymond Allen, and I ran a bookstore on Main Street in Niagara Falls, called Allen’s Christian Supplies. He’s the pastor at Bethany Baptist Church at 2002 Forest Ave., Niagara Falls, and I’m an ordained minister and one of the associate ministers. We have four daughters, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Before we had the bookstore, I worked for Opportunities Unlimited for 10 years.

It was while I was at BOCES that I ran for Niagara Falls City Council and I lost, but that’s when I got my feet wet in politics. Then, I went for the job of clerk of the Niagara County Legislature and that’s where I met (state Assemblyman) John Ceretto. We were both going for the job and neither of us got it, but eventually a position opened here at the board of elections for deputy commissioner.

How did you get involved in public speaking, outside of church?

In 1992, I was president of our union at Opportunities Unlimited and my local was on strike. NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) was endorsing Bill Clinton for president that night when I spoke at the New York Hilton in front of 3,000 people. This will show you how naive I was. I saw this thing with words on it at the lectern and asked, ‘What is this?’ It was the first time I had seen a teleprompter. I thought people just got up and spoke off the cuff.

Bill Clinton didn’t have any paper, so he wrote me a little note on a napkin and they had it put into a little frame for me. I still have it.

What are your future plans?

I am right where I should be right now. If that sounds like a minister, it’s because that’s what I’ll be when I’m done here. That is where my heart is.

But I am so blessed to be here now. Politics come into play, but I get to meet so many people. They say politics and religion can’t mix, but, yes, they do! So many people come this way who might just need a word of encouragement or a prayer … Our politicians are people, too, and sometimes they aren’t sure which way to go. They come to me for a little ‘old lady’ wisdom.

I’m so grateful that God has placed me where he has.

Know a Niagara County resident who’d make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.

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