Testimony regarding the County Executive proposed budget for the Onondaga County Board of Elections for 2023

On September 21, 2022 The Onondaga County Board of Elections appeared before the Onondaga County Legislature in our annual budget review. This is our oral presentation.

https://open.spotify.com/episode/1FCEmWznxUtBWxk4BRScKi

Written Testimony

Dear Members of the Onondaga County Legislature,

The 2023 calendar year will present enormous challenges for the Onondaga County Board of Elections.  Our office will see substantial change due to new voting laws that will take effect next year.  This will create even more work on our already undersized office.  In addition we intend to undertake a Capital Project that will replace our aging fleet of voting Machines, convert to on-demand ballot printing at every polling place, and possibly change our registration system.  These challenges along with expiring Grants and the need for more staff will mean additional local dollars for our office to meet the needs of the voters and fulfill the mandates of New York State Election Law.

The County Executive Budget unfortunately has significant cuts to our requested allotment.  Specifically the County Executive eliminated the funding to hire four additional full time staff from the 101 line, a reduction of $138,945.00.  The County Executive Budget also reduces our 103 line allotment by $269,422.50.  This line pays for Inspectors and temporary employees as well as training of our inspectors.  This is a significant cut as the expiring shoebox grant that paid for our training will be eliminated in 2022 as we are using those funds to pay for the imposed second primary.  We ask the legislature to restore these requests and will detail the need for that in our testimony.

Need for Additional Full Time Staff

We intend to expand our office staff to accommodate changing registration laws in New York, specifically the reduction of the registration cut-off to the constitutional minimum of 10 days and the implementation of Automatic and Online Voter Registration.  Our Board of Elections has seen a massive increase in annual registration forms needed to be processed since 2015.  From 2009 to 2015 our Board processed an average of 19.5k registration forms.  With the implementation of online voter registration with the MY DMV program we have seen a growing increase each year to now nearly 100k voter registration forms.  That is an increase of nearly 500%.  In 2022 we finally added two Election Clerk 1s to deal with this massive shift; however Onondaga County Board of Elections remains the least staffed board of elections in terms of full time employees to voter registration in the state. The Onondaga County Board of Election currently has one full time employee for every 15169.35 voters.  Statewide the Boards of Elections average one full time employee for every 7262.20 voters.

The addition of online and Automatic Voter registration is estimated to add an additional 30% of estimated registered voters to the rolls in New York State according to results from other states.  Each voter will generate not only their initial forms but subsequent forms when they move or change parties etc.  This could conceivably add tens of thousands more registration forms annually to our already overburdened staff. 

The reduction of the current registration cut off from 25 days to 10 days adds an additional burden.  Boards of Elections would use that 14 day window from the cutoff to the start of Early Voting to catch up on registrations.  We are required by New York State Law to process all timely received applications before the printing of poll books, which is the day before Early Voting.  In 2023 registration forms will be timely if received on the first day of Early Voting.  While we will wait for specific guidance from State Board of Elections it is likely there will be little to no window to clear backlogs of registrations.  More than ever we will need to be up to date on registrations on a daily basis.

It takes 6 months to properly train registration clerks in the various forms and procedures.  Furthermore registration must be done in a bipartisan fashion per the NYS constitution.  We estimate to properly keep up with the new regulations and not risk a registration lapse as we saw in neighboring counties during 2020 we will need two Election Clerk 1s and two election Clerk 2s.  This will allow us to have two sets of registration clerks and verifiers.  This will allow us to maintain our voter rolls at the level needed to comply with the added burdens of the new state laws as well as the increases in registration we have already seen since 2015.

In #NY22 in 2020 our neighboring counties experienced significant issues in regards to voter registration and it became a national scandal.  While we have been able to meet our demands at the Board of Elections it came at the expense of hundreds of overtime hours and temporary staff.  With the 2024 Presidential election on the horizon hiring staff during 2023 to not only accommodate the burden for 2023 and prepare for the added burden of a Presidential year will bring our staffing more in line with Boards of Elections throughout New York State.  We hope experienced, more efficient staff; will eliminate some need for temporary staff in 2024 as well.    

Other Boards of Elections have increased staff over the last few years while Onondaga County Board of Elections has remained virtually stagnant.  We also know many boards are planning to increase their staff again in 2023.  We suspect even with this increase Onondaga County Board of Elections will still be trailing our colleagues in terms of staffing ratios.  Adding 4 workers will bring our ratio to 1 for every 12.5k voters which would still be third worst in the state.  We believe though adding these 4 workers will give us the best chance at continuing a high level of service for our voters while avoiding the embarrassing high profile scandals of other Boards of Elections.

Expiration of Shoebox Grant means a shift of burden to local dollars.

In addition we are facing a funding increase in several areas.  The additional unplanned for primary in 2022 will be paid for out of federal shoebox money.  This grant rewarded originally in 2006 has been used to pay for mandated costs in the following areas:

  • Supplies & Materials (Computer Equip & Mater, Printers)
  • Maintenance, Utilities, Rents (Telephone Communication Services)
  • Professional Services (Fees for Service)
  • Travel and Training  (Program Travel Expense)
  • Furnishings & Equipment

By using these grants to pay expenses over the last 16 years we have been able to keep our local costs artificially low.  With the expiration of the Shoebox Grant and the previous expiration of the HAVA training grant we will see significant cost increases to the local budget in various areas.  All of these expenses are mandated and existing in previous years, however now will be borne by the local budget as opposed to grant expenses.  We do not see a replacement federal grant coming in the next calendar year.

The increase in the 103 line is most directly affected by the expiration of the Shoebox and HAVA Training grants.  The annual cost to train inspectors for both the June and November elections is estimated at $130,000.  In addition inspector costs have increased as the state minimum wage has increased.  The rising minimum wage also affects the training costs since the IRS has classified Inspectors as employees.  We no longer can pay inspectors a stipend for training but must pay hourly rates.  This increased inspector pay for training by as much as 75%.  It is important to note that even at these higher rates it is often difficult to find inspectors willing to work for minimum wage.  We have a mandate to train and pay inspectors through New York State Election Law.  The use of technology such as on-demand printers and electronic poll books allows us to deploy fewer inspectors then most of New York State.  Our 3.35 inspectors per 1000 registered voters are 7th lowest out of 57 counties in New York State.

Capital Project to Replace Aging Voting Machines

The Image Cast voting machines were originally certified in 2007.  New York State was mandated to replace our lever voting machines to comply with new federal standards.  We have not updated our voting system since that time period.  We are now looking to upgrade our fleet of machines to the newest most up to date machines being certified at the NYS Board of Elections.  This upgrade will last for an additional 10 years as we are skipping the Dominion ICE machines that were certified 5 years ago and moving to newer technology.

In addition there will be multiple vendors to choose from.  In 2008, only Dominion and ES&S were certified and they, along with new vendors Hart and Clear Ballot, are currently undergoing certification for new machines at the NYS Board of Elections.  This wider selection should result in a more competitive bidding market and save Onondaga County money rather than going with a single source.

Our upgrade to Electronic Poll Books in 2019, as well as continued upgrades to on-demand printing, has proven to be a valuable resource for our county.  We currently service 1/3 of our polling places with on-demand printers on Election Day.  This saves us on nearly 100 thousand ballots printed each election.  Investing in full on-demand printing will increase that savings, allow us to service larger polling sites, reduce our election personnel and save Onondaga County printing costs as well as storage costs.

Long term Cost reduction plan

If our request to purchase new election machines through the Capital Project is approved we could reduce some of these expenses over the next few years.  New precinct level scanners will allow for fewer inspectors to work Early Voting and Election Day polling sites, combine election districts, reduce shipping costs, and eventually reduce the number of Election Day polling sites.  This will happen over a three year period as 2023 we will purchase and train on the new equipment, 2024 we plan to reduce election districts, and in 2025 reduce the polling sites needed.  Election Inspector reductions as well as lower training costs could be realized as early as 2023 if we have equipment procured in time for the June 2023 primary. 

We also hope the on-demand printing project will save significant money as well.  On-Demand printing will save on tens of thousands of ballots that are wasted annually, especially in low turnout elections such as primary.  We hope that use of these machines paired with the new precinct scanners will allow us to start to pare down some polling places in 2024 and more in 2025.  Better equipment and more efficient ballot delivery methods along with the planned reduction in Election Districts can allow us to combine smaller polling places together.  We will still have to observe the needs of urban and village communities that may not have adequate vehicle access, but we could see a decent reduction in polling places where parking and adequate staffing allows.

Sincerely,

Dustin M. Czarny                                            Michele Sardo

Democratic Elections Commissioner              Republican Elections Commissioner

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