By Fran Knapp — Valley View
I would like to clear up some misinformation being spread by County Executive Steinhaus and Legislative Chairman Rolison. There has been a concerted effort by some in the county to cast dispersions on the Board of Elections. With county spending spiraling out of control and unsustainable budgets, the political leadership in Dutchess County is looking for somewhere to lay the blame.
Both Steinhaus and Rolison have claimed that spending at the Board of Elections is out of control. They have both publicly stated that our costs have “ballooned by more than 400%” in the last five years. This is absolutely false. Careful examination of spending by the BOE reveals that our costs have actually risen only 52% in the past five budget years.
This is remarkably modest increase for a county with 179,000 voters. By comparison, Chemung County recently reported that their costs have risen by 300% since 2005. Before 2005, a lack of uniform standards characterized town-administered elections. The New York State legislature correctly realized that some towns were not up to the huge task of implementing an entirely new voting system. The State mandated the complete takeover of all election functions by the County Board of Elections.
When the county Board of Elections took control of the entire election process our budget increased primarily due to the cost of paying over 1,200 election workers. The new State mandate also requires annual training for poll workers and increased pay for those training sessions. However, this consolidation of responsibility meant that all towns and cities could then eliminate the cost of elections from their annual budgets.
The differences between the costs associated with the lever machines and new optical scan voting system are undeniably huge. We anticipate having to run 14,000 test ballots this year for one election at a cost of .57 per ballot. The ink cartridges alone will cost $10,000. Again, the State has mandated the scrupulous testing and standards for the number of ballots that must be printed for every election.
Across the state – even across the nation – every county board of elections is facing the same budget growth as Dutchess. However, most Commissioners report that their county government is supportive and working as a partner to insure that all poll workers are trained properly, that the new voting machines are tested, and elections are conducted in a fair and open manner.
The unsubstantiated attacks on the Board of Elections by Mr. Steinhaus and Mr. Rolison should be taken for what they are, a distraction from the real issues. While the Resource Recovery Agency continues to burn through taxpayer money and the county’s Emergency Response Center feels it is necessary to acquire chairs that cost more than a used car, the Board of Elections has done a great job fulfilling state mandates under tight budget constraints. Our office was forced to lay off nearly 20% of our full time staff last year. We have tightened our belts as all agencies must in this economic crisis.
The obstruction by the County Executive and County Legislature is a concerted effort to limit our two party system of rule. Something I continue to oppose. I believe that the county legislature’s past support has contributed to fair and professionally conducted elections in Dutchess County which are at the heart of our democracy. However, the recent personal attacks and false information do not serve the voters well. These attacks are an attempt to cover up their own short comings.
It is apparent that the political leadership in our county government has decided that the BOE is an easy scapegoat to distract from the impending budget disaster in the county. The Poughkeepsie Journal’s recent investigation into election costs revealed that Dutchess County had one of the lowest per voter costs when comparing our surrounding counties, but I guess the facts only matter to Mr. Steinhaus and Mr. Rolison when they are convenient to them.
Democratic Elections Commissioner