(For transparency’s sake I have decided to share my prepared written testimony for today’s Budget Hearing for the Onondaga County Board of Elections at the Onondaga County Legislature. I am arguing for more funding and against the County Executive’s cuts of our draft budget.)
October 8, 2021
Budget Committee Hearing
Onondaga County Legislature
The Board of Elections will have many challenges over the 2022 calendar year in meeting the budget laid out by the County Executive. As we have shown in our annual report, the Onondaga County Board of Elections is already understaffed when compared to the rest of the state. Currently, the Onondaga County Board of Elections averages 1 full time employee for every 19.2k voters. The rest of New York averages 1 full time employee for every 8.5k voters. This is by far the worst ratio in the state. In addition, Onondaga County budgeted $9.28 per voter in 2021. This was one of the most frugal budgets in the state which averaged $19.78 per voter.
We made up for these funding inadequacies over the last several years by heavily relying on grant funding. The CARES grant and the ITC grant specifically helped with staffing shortages during the 2020 Election along with liberal use of our shoebox grant funding. We were able to stretch some of the ITC grant funding into the early part of this year to pay for extra staff to deal with registration and mail check processing. However, these grant funding options are not available for 2022. While Shoebox funding is available for temporary staff in 2022 that grant funding may be needed in 2023 to offset the costs of purchasing additional voting machines.
Our Commissioners made a bi-partisan determination that 4 additional staff members were needed to adequately accomplish the goals and requirements laid out for us by the New York State Legislature and the New York State Board of Elections. We asked for four additional staffing members to deal with the ever growing workload. With the ease of registering online through DMV, we have seen registration through this method increase by a factor of 10. This has tripled the amount of forms we must process each year and the rate is accelerating. This is putting strain on our already low staffing structures. Other boards have added staff since 2019 to deal with these staffing needs. We have not.
In addition to the increase in registrations, the Board of Elections will face more strains on our staff in 2022. Early Voting sites will increase to ten minimum sites in 2022. Absentee ballots will now be canvassed before Election Day adding 40 days of ballot canvassing while our staff is preparing Early Voting and Election Day operations. No fault absentees and Same Day registration will likely be passed by voters this fall adding more responsibilities to our staff. Without permanent staffing increases, we will have to compensate using Shoebox funds in 2022 to bring in inefficient temporary staff. The need for constant re-training and the short term nature of this staff does not allow us to adequately cover the long term needs of the voters of Onondaga County.
Finally, if we are forced to use Shoebox money for temporary staff we are only passing a larger bill down the road. Our ImageCast machines originally purchased in 2008 are reaching the end of their life. Our extended service agreement runs out in the middle of 2022. We need to consider a capital improvement to replace these ImageCast scanners. This will cost approximately $2.5 million for a complete conversion to modern tabulators. The Board of Elections will have approximately $1 million in grant monies to off set some of this purchase. However, if we spend this grant money as we do now to cover staffing and training that number will be reduced.
Dustin M. Czarny
Onondaga County Elections Commissioner (D)