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Board of Elections positions divide Democratic legislators 

The Monroe County Legislature passed a measure that would create six new positions, most of them supervisory, within the Board of Elections. But the vote divided members of the Democratic caucus, which is going through an internal skirmish around appointing an elections commissioner.

The legislation was introduced Tuesday by Republican Majority Leader Steve Brew and Democratic Minority Leader Vince Felder, who said they were acting at the request of Republican Elections Commissioner Lisa Nicolay and acting Democratic Elections Commissioner LaShana Boose. The proposal passed 20-8 during a meeting held the same day.
click to enlarge The Monroe County Legislature's Democratic Minority Leader Vincent Felder. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • The Monroe County Legislature's Democratic Minority Leader Vincent Felder.

All of the “no” votes came from Democrats: Rachel Barnhart, Josh Bauroth, John Baynes, Linda Hasman, Howard Maffucci, Joe Morelle Jr., Justin Wilcox, and Michael Yudelson.

"I don't know why we need to do this tonight,” Maffucci said. “Why can’t we do it at our next meeting? Because I really do need a little more information to understand why we're expensing more dollars right now."

Throughout questioning, the eight Democrats repeatedly circled back to what they said was a lack of detail around the positions. The approved legislation would create two assistant deputy commissioner positions, one of which will be filled by a Democrat, the other by a Republican. Those positions will pay between $76,000 and $92,000.

It would also create a supervisor of training and recruitment, a supervisor of information services, a supervisor of absentee voting, and a senior trainer. The six positions in total would add $220,000 to this year’s county budget and would be permanent additions to the Board of Elections.

Nicolay and Boose explained they were pursuing the positions to help lessen the growing burden on the Board of Elections staff. Nicolay noted that there were approximately 50 changes to election law last year and that the Board of Elections has also had to adjust to a dozen executive orders related to COVID-19.

“We are running up a hill, we are trying to accomodate 256,000 eligible voters with absentee ballots for just the primary,” Nicolay said. “And we're doing it with a very small, very underpaid staff frankly."

But under questioning, Boose and Nicolay acknowledged that they hadn’t drawn up job descriptions for the new positions. Nicolay added that, as a matter of fact, nobody working in the Board of Elections has a job description.

“I’m startled by that,” Hasman replied.

As she started to explain why she wouldn’t be voting for the legislation, Barnhart raised the issue of a lawsuit filed by a group of Democrats who are seeking to block Democratic legislators from appointing the party’s next elections commissioner. In doing so, she set off a skirmish with Felder that Legislature President Joe Carbone attempted to referee.
click to enlarge County Legislator Rachel Barnhart - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • County Legislator Rachel Barnhart

Barnhart contended that Felder and his allies in the caucus have invoked the process to favor a certain candidate, which she did not name. But Barnhart was clearly inferring Boose, the former deputy elections commissioner who rose to acting commissioner in February.

“We are not being asked to plug holes here, we are being asked to make new patronage jobs,” Barnhart said.

Felder fired back at Barnhart and stated his support for the legislation, which he said will “help make sure we have a board of elections that is efficient and operates properly.”

“Now, people can nitpick about certain aspects of this and that but to claim any time someone does something that I don't like it is now patronage, it is now grandstanding, it is now some sort of cabal or something, not only is it offensive, it's borderline slanderous," Felder said.

But Felder wasn’t able to shift the holdout members of his caucus to vote for the measure.

Baynes said he would be willing to vote for the positions if he’d had proper information and more to go on than anecdotal conversations during the meeting.

"We just conducted a discussion where we found out we have an overwhelmed and disorganized department by its own descriptions and yet the plan to organize them and underwhelm them is just as disorganized,” said Baynes. “We have absolutely no job descriptions and we don't have a coherent vision for going forward.”

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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