SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — The Onondaga County Board of Elections targeted Thursday, Nov. 19, as its final day of counting the 57,000 absentee ballots it received. However, after eight inspectors tested positive for COVID-19 Friday, Nov. 13, the Board of Elections was forced to halt its counting process and suspend operations until after Thanksgiving.
In response to the sudden shutdown of operations and health risk of its election officials, the Board of Elections added new safety procedures to its absentee ballot counting process.
“We are going to have face shields in addition to the masks for our inspectors, we are going to have plexiglass barriers in between the tables, and we are going to have limited number of people at each table,” said Dustin Czarny, democratic commissioner of the Onondaga County Board of Elections.
Prior to the eight positive cases, the Board of Elections had measures in place to make sure everyone was safe, including face coverings for all inspectors present and six feet of distance between each table. Those will stay constant along with the new rules in place for when counting resumes.
“Sometimes we would have six [to] eight watchers at a table with two B.O.E employees,” Czarny said. “That’s going to go down to two watchers and two B.O.E employees at every table.”
Czarny said the suspension of operations enacts a three-week delay on a process the Board of Elections was hoping would be one of the first counts done in Central New York.
“In fact, we were well ahead of schedule when this went down,” Czarny said. “We were leading the way. … Now instead of being one of the first to be done, we are going to be definitely the last one in New York to be done.”
The three races still undecided in Onondaga County—and that are directly affected by the suspension of absentee ballot counting—are one seat in both the 127th and 50th Districts, and Family Court judge.
As of Election Day, Mark Venesky (R) led Al Stirpe (D) by 1,038 votes in the 127th District; Angi Renna (R) led John Mannion (D) by 5,225 votes in the 50th District. For Family Court judge, Julie Cerio (D) has a comfortable lead, while Salvatore Pavone (R) led by nearly 13,000 votes to secure the second open spot.
“For [these] races, it’s prolonging a very long process as it [already] was,” Czarny said. “It probably won’t be until about Dec. 4, or 5, before people get to know who really won these races.”
No matter what happens in the next week, it will be a gruesome waiting game for the candidates, but a necessary delay to ensure the safety of everyone counting ballots.
“I think we got a good plan going forward,” Czarny said. “I think everyone will be safe, [and] I’m hoping everyone will recover without any complications.”
There are 27,000 absentee ballots yet to be counted. Counting is set to resume on Monday, Nov. 30, awaiting a judge’s approval.