Coronavirus and two elections: Experts say expect confusion in the 27th

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Next Tuesday’s Primary Day will bring confusion for voters, and potentially even some candidates, political experts say. The day will be highlighted by two races involving New York’s 27th Congressional District: a special election between Republican Chris Jacobs and Democrat Nate McMurray and a GOP primary involving Jacobs, Stefan Mychajliw, and Beth Parlato.

The winner of the special election will instantly become Chris Collins’ successor in Congress. Collins resigned his seat last October as he pleaded guilty to federal charges related to insider trading. The winner of the primary will be on the Republican line in November’s general election. It means Republicans in the 27th Congressional District will cast two ballots related to the district at the same time.

In addition, the COVID-19 crisis has turned this primary day into an unprecedented effort for elections staff. Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that all New Yorkers be allowed to vote absentee in the primary, and that they all get a postage-paid absentee ballot application in the mail. The deadline to postmark that application was June 16th, and the deadline to postmark the absentee ballot is June 23rd.

More than 210,000 absentee ballots have been mailed out by Erie County Board of Elections staff, and more than 82,000 have already been returned. Of those, more than 24,000 are for the 27th’s special election. Those won’t be opened until July 7th.

“Some of the things that are going to be different this year is that most of the results won’t come on election night,” said Jeremy Zellner, the Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner. “We really won’t have a lot of people declaring victory or a loss on election night because there are so many outstanding absentee ballots.”

Come Tuesday, some election day polling sites will be in different locations than they normally would be.

“It’s only been about 16 locations that have been changed out of more than 300,” Zellner said. “So it’s not like it’s wholesale changes. But just to be sure, if you are going to vote on election day, you should check your location on our website.”

Zellner said voters should be prepared to wear a mask, and are encouraged to bring their own pens.

Early voting is also available through Sunday. More than 2,300 people have already utilized that option at one of the 37 sites across Erie County.

In the 27th, Erie County makes up more than 40 percent of the electorate. The district also encompasses all or parts of Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Livingston, Monroe, and Ontario Counties. Political experts, including former Erie County GOP official Carl Calabrese, expect the confluence of circumstances to create issues.

“I think it hurts everybody because of the confusion,” Calabrese said. “There’s just going to be a lot of unknowns going on this year. How do people react to having two ballots? Then how do people react to maybe not knowing the winner on election night?”

Democratic Erie County Legislator and Canisius College political science professor Kevin Hardwick says if the double-election situation in the 27th helps anyone, it’s McMurray.

“I don’t think most people are putting money on him to win, because it’s such a Republican district,” Hardwick said. “However, if there is an advantage to all this confusion, it’s probably in McMurray’s favor.”

Thirty-nine percent of registered voters in the district are Republicans, while 30 percent are Democrats.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.

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