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Performance or politics? Elections inspector is out of a job

Mary Kless said politics had nothing to do with her decision to serve as an election inspector in Lancaster, where she has lived for most of her 78 years.

“It’s a civic duty for me,” said Kless. “People who are inspectors do it because they want to serve the community."

But now she's wondering whether politics is the reason she will not be doing the job this year.

Kless served as an inspector for 13 years until she was informed that the Erie County Board of Elections removed her name from the list of Republican election inspectors. She said she was informed of the board's decision on Sept. 23, after not receiving information on class offerings for election inspectors as she had in the past.

"They told me I no longer worked for the Board of Elections. I asked what I did wrong? I got the runaround." Kless said.

Ralph M. Mohr, Republican commissioner for the board, said Kless was not among the election inspectors listed for the November election because she made two serious mistakes.

“In a primary election, she handed out the wrong ballot to members of a political party, so people voted in the wrong primary election,” Mohr said. “She also handed out a second ballot to a person who had already voted. Those are the worst things you can do as an election inspector.”

But Kless questioned why she was not told about the infractions.

“I want to know the exact date and the instance. I should have been told that night,” Kless said, adding that Mohr "never told me what I did wrong. The people I work with would have said something. Those are serious errors."

Gregory A. Sojka, chairman of the Lancaster Republican Party since last October, said he believes there is a different reason why Kless was not included in the list of eligible election inspectors: She wrote a letter critical of Erie County GOP leadership to the Lancaster Bee that was published on Aug. 7.

"What happened here is the old boys club running her out,” he said.

Mohr has knowledge of the letter, but denied it influenced the decision to not renew Kless's employment as election inspector. He described the incident as an "internal matter."

“She wasn’t terminated. She made serious mistakes as an election inspector and when her term expired, it was not renewed," he said.

Election inspectors serve one-year terms, from July 15 to July 14, Mohr said.

The loss of an election inspector comes at a time when more inspectors are needed.

The addition of early voting in New York State, from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3, will add nine days to the polling calendar, a change that will increase the need for election inspectors.

“Certainly when you add more days, staffing is more challenging, but we have inspectors who have expressed an interest in training especially for early voting,” Mohr said. “There always is a need for election inspectors.”

About 7,900 people serve as election inspectors in Erie County, according to Justin Rooney, office manager for the Board of Elections. Their average age is 74, he said. This year’s rate of pay, set by the Erie County Legislature, is $190. In 2018, the rate was $175. The hourly rate is $11.87, calculated for the 15-hour election workday – 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., said Rooney.

Kless remains active in the Lancaster community. She has served as a trustee for the Lancaster Central School Board and the Lancaster Historical Society. She worked 40 years as a lab assistant for Rich Products until her retirement in 2002, when she started to work part time as a proofreader for Bee Group Newspapers.

“The main role of election inspectors is to protect the voter’s rights and do everything we can do for that voter," said Kless. “I’m hurt that I won’t be able to do it. I’m going to vote, of course, but that’s all I can do."

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