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VOTING Someone must pay for a process

The OBSERVER’s View

It is easy for some to read about the concerns of county Legislator Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, regarding mail-in voting and automatically assume Niebel’s concerns are political in nature.

In neighboring Pennsylvania a political fight is forming after President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit over the handling of mail-in ballots during the recent presidential primary. That lawsuit reflects issues many Republicans have long argued that mail-in voting favors Democrats, prompting the GOP to fight mail-in ballots at every turn. There are also very real concerns about the security of ballots and people who are sent multiple ballots for people who have moved.

But those weren’t Niebel’s concerns recently when the Sheridan legislator voiced support for in-person voting. Rather than Republican platitudes, Niebel is looking at the bottom line cost of holding an election in-person compared with the use of absentee ballots. Niebel’s concerns aren’t shared by Democrats in the state Legislature, who recently passed legislation (A.10203/S.8015) that would allow anyone who feels uncomfortable voting in person to use an absentee ballot. In Chautauqua County, in a worst-case scenario, sending ballots to each of the county’s 76,894 registered voters would cost $42,291.70 — money that the county Board of Elections could never have imagined might be necessary when elections officials were putting together their 2021 budget last year.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, and state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, both voted against the legislation, with Goodell saying on the Assembly floor that use of absentee ballots should at least be limited to high-risk populations or be limited to the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation contains no additional funding mechanism for counties, which makes it an unfunded mandate at a time when counties have no way to pay for them.

Once again, the state is writing checks that local taxpayers will have to pay. Expanding use of absentee ballots may make perfect sense in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Niebel and Goodell both raise good concerns that have gone unheeded by Democrats in Albany.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. There’s no such thing as a free election either — someone will have to pay these increased costs.

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