CATSKILL — County lawmakers authorized the Board of Elections to lease 29 Image Cast Evolution Machines on Monday to abide by early voting requirements.
Image Cast machines allow voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently, according to elections.ny.gov. Monday’s original resolution was to purchase 29 machines from Dominion Voting Systems Corporation for $385,400 but lawmakers opted to lease the machines instead. The county also needs thirty E Poll Pad Units and two Ballot On Demand Printers, which will be financed by grant funding from the state Board of Elections, according to the resolution.
“Over the life of the machine, it ends up being about $30,000 a year more [to lease],” Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, said Tuesday. “But you have to weigh it against it being electronic and the constant labor involved to keep these things up to snuff for basically a 10-year period.”
Columbia County is in the process of reviewing its equipment needs, Board of Supervisors Chairman Matthew Murell said.
“Our new Election Commissioner [Ken Dow], who starts Thursday, will be working with our Republican Commissioner [Jason Nastke] to develop an equipment replacement plan,” he said. “Almost all of our machines are at end of life and we will be replacing them over the next two to three years.”
Columbia County received a state grant to purchase electronic polling books for all of the polling sites in the county, Murell said.
“That was money taxpayers didn’t have to spend,” he said.
Early voting’s debut had mixed results in the Twin Counties.
In Greene County, 638 people voted early, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said in November.
Early voting was offered from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3 on the fourth floor of the Greene County Office Building.
The county incurred additional costs to offer early voting for the nine-day period, Greene County Republican Election Commissioner Brent Bogardus said.
“We had to have inspectors to man the poll site, pay overtime for the board of elections staff, have additional security on two different weekends and have additional ballots available,” Bogardus said in November. “I’m currently estimating it cost about $30,000.”
Bogardus said he does not believe the goal of early voting was achieved.
“If new people were participating or we were increasing the voter turnout, maybe I would have a different view,” he said. “The turnout was soft at best. Two percent of enrolled voters participated. For the cost of the program versus the marginal benefit, I think it was a waste of time and money. The people who voted had a history of voting — they are not new voters.”
Columbia County offered early voting during the week at three polling locations: the County Building, 401 State St., Hudson; Martin H. Glynn Municipal Building, Valatie; and Copake Town Hall, 230 Mountain View Road, Copake.
Columbia County Democratic Election Commissioner Virginia Martin described the early voting preparations as “resource-intensive,” although she did not have an estimate of how much the transition was costing the county when interviewed in November.
Columbia County had the highest percentage of early voters in the state, Martin said, with 7.5% or 3,371 of the 45,201 registered voters voting early.
“I think voters found early voting to be very convenient and they liked it very much,” Martin said. “The board is very happy to be able to make voting convenient and easy. There is no denying, though, that it represented an outsized effort for our board, and it’s clear to me that with the number of staff that we have now, we will not be able to sustain another round of early voting. Most staff have been working 12-, 15-, even 19-hour days every single day since Oct. 25 and some since Columbus Day, including of course not only the holiday but Saturdays and Sundays, without a break.”
Due to some discrepancies in the type of paper needed for the machines, about 700 votes needed to be counted by hand in Columbia County. Preliminary results from the election were not posted until Nov. 13 — more than two weeks after the election.
Martin described it as a learning process.
“Our first early voting cycle had some bumps but we have learned from them,” Martin said. “As have other counties who experienced issues and delays, too. Next year there will be primaries in April and June along with more early voting and we will be better prepared.
“You can be assured that the issues that occurred will be addressed going forward,” Martin added. “We are committed to an accurate and successful voting experience for all.”
In March 2019, the Greene County Legislature passed two resolutions calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to fund the new election laws, including the purchase of electronic polling books which could cost up to $1 million per county, according to the resolution.
Electronic polling books enable polling officials to transmit the early votes to polling sites, Bogardus said.
The state board of election is providing grant funding for the electronic polling books, or E Poll Pad Units, Bulich said. The county is purchasing 30 for about $41,000, he said.