Montgomery County

Elections board feels the absence of crash victim

Deputy Election Commissioner Adam Jackson killed in Schoharie limo crash
The community gathers for a vigil on the pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam on Oct. 8.
The community gathers for a vigil on the pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam on Oct. 8.

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FONDA — The Montgomery County Board of Elections has struggled since the death of Deputy Election Commissioner Adam Jackson, who was killed in the Schoharie limousine crash.  Personnel temporarily performing the duties handled by Jackson recently sent out ballots with mistakes.

Montgomery County Democratic Election Commissioner Terry Bieniek said his office accidentally sent out 89 absentee ballots to the town of Amsterdam that did not have the name of Republican Joe Vitollo, who is running for the House of Representatives in the 20th Congressional District against incumbent U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam.

He said about 400 other absentee ballots sent out in Montgomery County have the wrong first name for Vitollo, calling him “Francis.”

Bieniek said the BOE is sending out new corrected absentee ballots, but a plan is in place for how to deal with the incorrect ones. He said the New York State Board of Elections has instructed him that the incorrect ballots should be counted in this way: 
• Votes for Vitollo from the “Francis” ballots will be counted for him. 
• Votes from the town of Amsterdam ballots without Vitollo’s name on them will be counted, unless a new corrected ballot is sent in from the same person, in which case the corrected ballot will be used instead of the Vitollo-less ballot. 

Bieniek said during a typical election year there might be 400 absentee ballots requested in Montgomery County, but this year there have been about 600. He said the additional workload has put some strain on the BOE staff, which, with the passing of Jackson, includes himself, Republican Election Commissioner Terrance Smith, Democratic Deputy Election Commissioner Caroline Swartz and two clerks. 

“Unfortunately, Adam used to do the ballots, and it’s on a special software, and it was on his computer, so we basically had to get [county information technology personnel] to come over and switch it over to the other deputy, and that took some time, and then she’s not too familiar with it, because obviously she didn’t do the ballots. Long story short, we did not recognize the error with Francis and Joe,” he said. “The error was there, and we should have spotted it, but we just didn’t. Where the name Francis came from, I have no idea.” 

Bieniek said he isn’t certain whether another Republican deputy election commissioner will be appointed in time for the November election. He said the deputy commissioners are crucial to the handling of ballots on election night.

“They do quite a bit. We accept the ballots coming in from the bags and then we turn it over to the deputies, and the deputies put it into the system, and then the IT person handles his part and puts it on the web,” he said. “Plus they are on the phones constantly with the poll workers if there are any questions or problems. It’s a critical role.” 

Vitollo’s campaign did not respond to messages from The Daily Gazette seeking comment for this story. 


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