A line of voting machines wait to be shipped to polling places around Essex County this week ahead of next week's primary election to determine the Republican nominee to replace retiring Congressman Bill Owens.
ELIZABETHTOWN — In a non-descript office on the west end of the Essex County Government Center, away from the clamor of the two Republican candidates fighting to win their party’s nomination to replace outgoing Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh), officials are engaged in a quieter, yet no less vital, task:
Preparing for the nuts and bolts of the GOP primary election on Tuesday, June 24.
Only registered Republicans are allowed to vote. There are 12,229 of them in the county (or about 51.6 percent of registered voters, a number that shrinks to 46.9 percent when you prune away those considered inactive), all of whom registered before the cut-off for federal elections on May 30.
Active voters should have received a pocket-sized white card with the location of their polling place.
“If you’re registered, you have the right to vote,” said Mark Whitney, the Democratic Commissioner of the Essex County Board of Elections. “The key is to go to the right polling place.”
There are 25 dotted throughout the county. Each of the 18 towns have at least one.
Registered Republicans who have not received their card are considered inactive and should call the Board of Elections for clarification. These are voters who may have moved, for instance, or others whose addresses cannot be verified.
“We’ll look you up,” said Whitney.
Voters who run into difficulty at their polling places on election day can still vote, but only through an affidavit.
Affidavits are treated like any other ballots. So are absentee ballots.
The commissioners, one Republican, the other, a Democrat, will then collectively decide if they will be counted.
“As commissioners, our job is to put on a fair and proper election,” said Republican Commissioner Allison McGahay.
Turnout for this election, she said, is difficult to predict. “We don’t have anything to base it on — this is only the second non-presidential federal primary cycle we’ve had in June,” she said. “Voters aren’t accustomed to thinking about elections this month. Everyone knows the first Tuesday in November — that’s historic. No one forgets that.”
The fourth Tuesday in June, said McGahay, was determined by the courts to offer military personnel a wider period of time to submit their absentee ballots before the required 45-day window.
In 2012, 13,178 voters — 7.5 percent of the district’s 174,028 registered Republicans across parts of 12 counties — voted in the GOP primary contest between businessman Matt Doheny and Kellie Greene.
In a detached structure behind the board’s office on Court Street quietly wait the arbitrator of the elections:
The actual machines, Dominion ICP-BMD: ImageCast Precinct-Ballot Marking Devices, each labeled with their eventual polling places:
“Chesterfield ED #1: Keeseville Knights of Columbus” or “Jay ED #1: Amos and Julia Ward Theater.”
On a recent visit, officials could be seen testing them. Access to the facility was tightly controlled, with all required to sign in and out of the structure after being admitted.
“We’re testing all of the machines to make sure they’re reading and counting the ballots accurately before they’re sealed,” said Whitney. “We also test them quarterly throughout the year.”
After passing the test, they will be loaded onto trucks to their destinations.
Whitney said work for the board of elections is ongoing. The department has been preparing for this election cycle since last fall.
Election workers receive mandatory annual training and are made to sign an oath of office before being sworn in as a paid official. Violations will result in punitive measures.
“They have great powers,” said Whitney. “They preserve good order around the polling place and assure they are running in good order. If there is a question, then they resolve it by majority vote.”
Essex County Democrats, whose active members numbered 6,185 — or about 21.6 percent of the registered electorate (29.5 if you count the inactive) — will have to wait until the general election this November to vote in the race for New York’s 21st.
Their candidate is Aaron Woolf, a small business owner and filmmaker who lives in Elizabethtown. A Glens Falls-based baker, Matt Funiciello, is running on the Green Party ticket.
This year’s contest sees Doheny facing Elise Stefanik, a former Bush aide who lives in Willsboro.
All voters, regardless of political affiliation, said Whitney, are encouraged to make sure their registrations are up-to-date. They can do so by contacting the board of elections.