An envelope shortage last week forced some Capital Region school districts into an eleventh-hour scramble to get school election ballots in the mail in time for residents to have their votes counted.
Districts across the state have been operating under an extremely tight timeline since Gov. Andrew Cuomo postponed school budget elections to June 9 and required they be conducted by mail-in ballot only.
The Greater Amsterdam School District and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake both hit a road bump Friday when the outside contractor they use for election services, including printing ballots this year, said a shortage of envelopes was delaying their ability to get ballots in the mail.
Burnt Hills officials, who earlier in the week were told their ballots were entering the “mail stream,” rushed over the weekend to get ballots and envelopes instead provided by the Schenectady County Board of Election and a local print shop, and a team of district staff volunteered to stuff envelopes Monday morning.
Amsterdam is sticking with the outside company, Niagara Falls-based NTS Data Services, which has promised the district ballots would be in the mail no later than Wednesday. Since residents must return ballots to the district by June 9 at 5 p.m. — received by the district not postmarked by – both Amsterdam and Burnt Hills, among other districts, are allowing residents to drop completed ballots directly at school sites.
“It’s caused some real challenges, but I think we are going to be OK,” Amsterdam Interim Superintendent Ray Colucciello said Tuesday of getting ballots to around 14,000 district resident. “The timing is really, really tight. … The timing is such that the minutes count.”
Colucciello said the district was assured that ballots would be mailed by Wednesday and said the district is working to get word to the district community that ballots can be returned directly to school buildings or at one of the district’s two food pick-up sites. He said he hopes residents have their ballots in hand by Friday but noted he can’t guarantee how long ballots will take in the mail – either going to voters or returning to the district.
“It conceivably could get here if you mailed it by Friday or Saturday, but if you felt more secure then drop it off,” he said.
Ballots can be dropped off at secure drop boxes located at each of the district’s six school buildings or at meal pick-up sites at Tecler, Amsterdam High School and Lynch Literacy Academy. Ballots must be dropped off by June 9 at 5 p.m. The district also plans a final push of communication through newspaper ads and other means to get word to the community about how to vote on the budget and for the school board.
Burnt Hills officials called an audible late Friday, working over the weekend with the Schenectady County Board of Elections and local print shop Vincy’s Printing to produce 15,000 ballot mailings, which were stuffed by around 40 staff volunteers Monday morning, making their way into the mail that morning. When Burnt Hills residents receive the ballot in the mail, it will come in an official Schenectady County elections envelope.
District officials thought they were on track with the mailings last week, getting their finalized budget in on the early side and getting word from NTS last Tuesday that their ballots had entered the “mail stream.” But those assurances were overturned Friday when NTS said they faced an envelope shortage — “very similar to what happened with toilet paper and hand santizer in recent month,” the company told districts – forcing districts officials to scramble for a solution as days ticked down.
“We got an ominous email saying they were out of envelopes and there were significant problems,” schools Superintendent Richard McGrath said. “It just left us on Friday feeling we couldn’t leave it in their hands.”
McGrath said he hoped residents would be receiving ballots this week and that the district established a system for residents to get a provisional ballot directly at district office if they were concerned about not receiving a ballot in the mail.
The district is also allowing residents to drop ballots off at any school’s front office between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays. McGrath said he would recommend residents turn their ballots around as soon as possible if they intend to send it through the mail or to drop their ballots directly at a school if they were concerned about the timing of the mail service.