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County reports ‘record number’ of absentee requests

Local election officials are reporting that a “record number” of absentee ballots have been requested despite Election Day still eight weeks from this coming Tuesday.

According to the Chautauqua County Board of Elections and commissioners Norm Green and Brian Abram, nearly 7,000 ballots have been requested thus far. That puts the county on pace for 70% voter turnout — 55,000 county residents — for an election headlined by a presidential contest between incumbent Republican President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President and Democratic nominee Joe Biden amid a global pandemic.

“No past presidential cycle has found much more than 4,000 absentee ballot applications for the county, out of its current 77,758 registered active voter total,” the commissioners said in the release, noting that ballots will start to be mailed out on Sept. 18.

Green said with the circumstances surrounding the impact of COVID-19, the department began planning for a large volume of absentee requests in March. The board is one of five counties of the 62 statewide that prints its ballots in-house.

“We’ve been planning for this over the duration of the pandemic,” Green said. “In March, we told Falconer Printing to order ballot envelopes of three different sizes in a quantity of 60,000 and had them ready depending on what the governor told us to do. Since then, we’ve been ready for what needed to be done.”

Green also credited Chris Burt, the board’s election technician, who developed ballot tracking software that will help keep voters at ease as to allow county citizens to determine their personal voting status and track the application, mailing and receipt of their voted absentee ballot.

“Chris Burt in our office put that together for us,” Green said. “He’s a self-taught person. We have the premier tracking software in the state of New York and most counties don’t have anything to track their ballots.”

With the record number of absentee requests already received and the totals expected to increase, Green and Abram told media members that they are expecting workers will be at the board six days a week processing returned absentee ballots.

“We have brought on extra staff and our regular workers are kicking it up a notch to ensure that the absentee ballots get out the door on time,” Abram said in the release.

“No voter will be denied the opportunity to vote by mail, as long as they apply now and return their ballots as soon as they are received,” Green added.

With election processes across the country under scrutiny ahead of the election, Green wants voters in the county to know that his department is prepared to offer them a chance to cast their ballot in whichever way fits their level of comfort.

“What we’ve prepared is that no matter how a voter wants to vote, we’re going to be ready to offer that service,” he said. “You can apply for an absentee in one step and we’ll send you a ballot. If you prefer to go and want it to be a little less busy and a little less hectic, we’ll have early voting sites at the Chautauqua Mall and at our offices in Mayville, as well as the county fairgrounds.”

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