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... And the Board of Elections Plays Games With Voter Info

Last week, candidates running to be committeemen for the Erie County Democratic Party were out collecting signatures in their various election districts. Incumbents were working off packets supplied by the party on Thursday, June 7.

The same day, I spoke with Erie County Board of Elections Freedom of Information Law officer, Robert Reynolds, requesting voter information reflective of the new districts drawn up in Erie County. I was told I could come down the next day and request a copy on CD.

On Friday, June 8, I went to the Erie County Board of Elections to make the request. I was told that since the entire county was not complete, all I could have was the old voter lists, with no districts identified. Hopefully, I was told, the updated info would be completed over the weekend and be available Monday or Tuesday.

I specifically asked Reynolds and Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward if I could request information for those election districts that were already completed. I was told that wasn’t an option. They had a stack of requests, they told me, and they were telling everyone the same thing. Come back next week, when the entire county would hopefully be done. I had to understand—the whole process had been delayed, plus there was a SNAFU with some software they were using, and they were doing the very best they could under difficult circumstances.

I explained that I knew of committeemen in Buffalo who had already received packets of voter information—“walk sheets” that tell them what doors to knock on—from Erie County Democratic Party headquarters, based on updated information, so they could begin canvassing for signatures. Reynolds and Ward explained that Democratic HQ must have put together the packets based on the same old information that was being offered to me. A task, it turns out, that is akin to mapping the human genome.

Others seeking the same information were given the same story—which turns out not to be true. Erie County Democratic HQ had in fact received the updated data for the city of Buffalo from the board of elections on Wednesday, June 6, and worked swiftly to put it into packets. Here is the text of an email sent from Katie Bartolotta, executive director of the Erie County Democratic Committee, at 1:40am on Thursday, June 7:

The rest of the city (MAS, LOV, NOR, UNI, SOU, NIA) has been completed and printed! As stated earlier, zone chairs may pick up the remaining packets for their zone and for any other zone, but only if ECDC has been given explicit permission to do so.

Packets may be picked up starting at 12pm tomorrow.

We will keep everyone posted on the status of the remaining town petitions.

We appreciate your patience and will hopefully see you all tomorrow!


Monday, I pointed out this email to Reynolds. “I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “You’ll have to ask Democratic headquarters what’s going on, and what they did. I didn’t personally give any disks out.”

After several calls to Democratic headquarters, I received a call back from Chairman Len Lenihan:

“What Katie did, as my executive director, is we requested the stuff by council district as it was done,” Lenihan said. “We didn’t say, ‘We want it all or nothing.’ ’Cause we started handing this stuff out last week. We asked for it as it was ready. And I think you think that we got some inside information that other people couldn’t get. The difference, what we’re talking about here is like apples and oranges. We knew the stuff was being grinded out little by little. It was difficult because of this 10-year reapportionment. So we asked for information bit by bit, as it became available, because then at least we could at least give out that to our zone chairmen. However, the entire county really just got done today. Now, anything that anybody could want—they can get it, because it’s now done. But it wasn’t done last Tuesday, when we started petitions, it wasn’t done last Thursday, it wasn’t done last weekend. It’s done now. And they’ve been working at it painstakingly, well, for weeks now. Particularly the last week because everybody’s been hollering at them, because technically they should be on the street with those petitions now. I don’t know what you want to ask beside that, but I’d be happy to answer any questions you have. There is no conspiracy here. This is simply getting stuff done when we can. The difference is, we’re asking for it as it got done. It wasn’t a matter of us trying to hoard information or anything like that.”

I got off the blower and put a call in to Ward, saying I wanted to ask him about misleading me on Friday. He didn’t call back, so I went home and stewed about it. Tuesday morning I called back and got hold of his assistant, Cynthia Selden. She seemed happy to tell me that the commissioner wouldn’t be in all day. He had to be at the Erie County Legislature at 11am, and then had other stuff to do all afternoon. I hopped on my bike and rode down to the legislature meeting. I collared Ward in the room outside the session and asked him why he didn’t share the records that were done last Friday, since he’d already given them to the Democratic Committee two days earlier.

Ward told me that the Democrats filed FOIL requests for everything they received. I asked him why he and Reynolds led me to believe that nothing was available on Friday. He said it was all because I asked for the whole county—which is what I wanted—but I reminded him that I also asked for all the districts that were complete and I was told that would be impossible.

At first Ward denied the Democrats were given the information for the city on Wednesday. I told him there was an email confirming this, as well as the discussion I had with Lenihan. Then he said they were still cleaning the records. I asked him why he gave the Democrats the records on Wednesday, and then told me on Friday that they didn’t exist.

“No,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “That is what happened.”

“All right,” he said, “write what you want.”

I told him I would. Then, I hopped on my bike, rode over to the Board of Elections and filed a FOIL request asking to examine all the FOIL requests filed with the BOE dating back to May 1, since those ought to be public records. Reynolds stamped a date on the request and said it would have to be considered by Ward and his Republican counterpart, Ralph Mohr. I haven’t heard anything yet.

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