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Legislature looking to add Board of Elections staff 

In recent years, the rhythm of Monroe County’s election seasons has shifted. The state used to set primaries for September ahead of the general election in November, but now due to change in state law the primaries happen in June.

The county Board of Elections, which used to have some breathing room between the November election and primaries the following September, now goes full-steam all year.

The Monroe County Legislature’s Republican majority leader and its Democratic minority leader have introduced legislation adding six positions to the Board of Elections office to help it keep pace with its present-day expectations and workload. The proposal would set aside $220,000 to pay for the new jobs.

The legislation would create two assistant deputy commissioner positions, one of which will be filled by a Democrat, the other by a Republican. It would also create a supervisor of training and recruitment, a supervisor of information services, a supervisor of absentee voting, and a senior trainer. Of the six positions, three will be filled by Democrats and three by Republicans, according to the memo accompanying the legislation.

“I’m glad that we’re able to do this to help the board of elections out,” said Republican Majority Leader Steve Brew.

Democratic Minority Leader Vince Felder said the positions are also necessary to help with this year’s flood of absentee balloting, a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. State and local officials have encouraged voters to apply for and cast absentee ballots for the upcoming June primary instead of packing into polling places.

But he expects the state to head toward broader use of voting by mail in future years, and the Board of Elections needs the staff to process applications and the returned absentee ballots.

“The sanctity of elections is so important that you want to have the right mix of people in there to perform these functions,” Felder said.

Brew and Felder introduced the legislation Monday morning, and legislators will vote on the measure when they meet today at 5:30 p.m. The meeting can be viewed at youtube.com/user/monroecountygovny.

The sudden introduction of the legislation and the speed with which is it to come to a vote alarmed Democratic Legislator Rachel Barnhart, who said she'll be asking questions about the measure.

"I've called other large counties and they did not hire new people to deal with the pandemic, certainly not highly-paid supervisors," Barnhart said in a statement Tuesday. "If they were to make hires, it would be clerks. This smells like a patronage scheme for both sides of the aisle."

Democrats in the County Legislature are currently going through a process to select and appoint a new elections commissioner for their party. A group of Monroe County Democratic Committee members is suing them, as well as party chair Brittaney Wells, to try to bring the process to a halt.

State Supreme Court Justice John Ark, who is hearing the case, has scheduled a hearing on the lawsuit for Thursday.

This past weekend, some members of the Democratic Caucus — not all of whom are on board with appointing an elections commissioner — interviewed seven prospective candidates.

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

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