Something significant has happened in Wayne County over the last two months. The Wayne County Board of Supervisors recently approved moving election commissioners there from part-time to full-time status.
It’s a change that understandably doesn’t drive a lot of attention or buzz. While Election Day is significant to a lot of people — the day-to-day work of Election Commissioners is often under appreciated.
We recently caught up with Mindy Robinson, who has served as deputy commissioner for a number of years, and took over as Republican Commissioner when the changeover from part-time to full-time occurred. “We haven’t even had time to let it sink in,” Robinson explained of the change, which allows them to be better prepared for their long list of responsibilities. As quickly as the supervisors moved to go ‘full-time’ for its election commissioners, Robinson and her counterpart on the Democratic side, were already in full-swing election mode.
It’s worth noting the oddity of a county Wayne’s size having part-time election commissioners. Several counties in the Finger Lakes that have 50-75% fewer voters have full-time commissioners, and according to Robinson, there’s only about 11 left that she could find in New York State. “You have to have someone in there five days a week, there are law changes, and you’ve got to be fluent in all the law changes, and you need to be able to handle all of the voter updates that come in too, and whatever else might come at you. And then there’s early-voting and Election Day,” she explained.
Much of this debate about part-time vs. full-time commissioners came after Election Day 2023, when unofficial results were delayed by approximately 12 hours. While results were not compromised — an error with SD cards that were used at polling sites created a delay at two — which led to the delay of unofficial results being shared everywhere.
Robinson said in hindsight, their office could have released most unofficial results, and held off on those two precincts that were going to require additional time to tally — they opted to delay releasing all unofficial results. It was a reminder that having so little full-time staff put their office at a disadvantage.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t anticipating some kind of issue,” Robinson continued. “It wasn’t a matter of if but when something was going to happen procedurally, if we did not get more staff in this office, because you can’t only have four full-time employees with 62,000 registered voters. I stand by how we handled that night, and thankfully integrity of results was maintained, but changes were definitely needed in staffing.”
Results were ultimately posted the Wednesday after Election Day, but at that point, the conversation about moving part-time commissioners to full-time had caught new momentum. Even with full-time status, though, there are a lot of unknowns the Board of Elections office is working through presently. For example, Robinson said finding a job description or list of duties for election commissioners in New York State was impossible. So, they relied on surrounding counties to serve as a resource to build-out their new, full-time strategy.
And that’s a good thing because the changes are coming fast-and-furious. “We’re now moving into electronic iPads for voter sign-in, and we’re one of the last two counties in the state to make the move to digital poll pads,” Robinson said of Wayne County. That change alone will require a lot of logistical work — like ensuring connectivity at dozens of polling places across the county and training poll workers. “We’ve had to go to 37 different buildings, and our IT department has been wonderful, surveying these sites,” she continued. “We are a very rural county, and as far as poll workers are concerned — the demographics of those individuals is older, so training on poll pads is important.”
But this year will be the first-of-several that serve as learning opportunities for elections offices across the state. The 2024 presidential election cycle is effectively underway with preparations for a 70+ percent turnout in Wayne County expected. The unknown Congressional lines present short-term questions for when elections will take place this cycle. And finally, the state opting to move local elections for town and county seats to presidential election years in the near-future create longer-term questions.
All told, Robinson and her colleagues in Wayne County are satisfied knowing full-time commissioners will better position them for all of the challenges ahead.