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State election boards smoothly handled difficult year

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The 2012 election year was one of the most lengthy and challenging in the history of the state of New York. The beginning of the year started with the redistricting of our state’s congressional and state legislative seats. In addition to this once-in-a-decade process, New York was involved in federal court action due to the state’s failure to comply with the 2009 Military and Overseas Voting Act in a timely manner.

The ultimate result of this failure to comply with this law was the decision by Federal Judge Gary Sharpe to move all federal primary elections to June 26, 2012. Disagreement in the New York state Legislature stymied our associations’ goal of a combined federal, state and local primary for 2012. This had serious fiscal, logistical and political consequences for counties.

Counties conducted a minimum of three countywide elections with most running four or more over the course of the year. In addition to these challenges, county costs exploded due to extra paper ballots, additional absentee ballot mailings due to multiple military personnel ballots, election inspector pay and trucking of voting machines and other election supplies.

The general election provided a major milestone due to the fact that the paper ballot/optical scan voting systems were used for the first time in a presidential election. Boards of elections were dealt a serious crisis when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the greater New York City/Long Island region creating havoc on our citizens and the ability to run elections smoothly. Despite the intense damage to this area in terms of life and property, the boards in this region dutifully carried out their responsibilities despite the severe carnage that was wrought.

As we begin 2013, it’s more imperative than ever that our association work with the state Legislature to enact comprehensive election law reforms. Many of our state’s election laws are badly in need of revision or are simply irrelevant in today’s paper ballot/optical scan world. Antiquated election laws are hampering many aspects of sound election management and have unnecessarily driven up election costs on taxpayers and the counties.

In closing, I would like to thank all those dedicated election professionals who work so hard to run honest and fair elections throughout New York. Without fanfare and throughout many trying circumstances, county Boards of Elections continually work to ensure that the people’s most basic and hard-won rights are protected and preserved.

Mr. Eaton is the Republican commissioner of elections for Jefferson County and president of the Election Commissioners’ Association of the State of New York. This article appeared in the December issue of the association’s newsletter, The ECA Reporter.

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