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Board of Elections likely to go over budget in busy 2024

Four people work in a room with computers along the back wall and tables covered in papers.
Scott Willis
Staff at the Onondaga County Board of Elections work feverishly last fall to sort and scan absentee and affidavit ballots.

Onondaga County’s Elections Commissioners say they’re more than willing to explain their budget needs to county lawmakers and the county executive, if they’re ready to listen.  The apparent lack of communication during the recent budget review process might pose some challenges during the busy 2024 election season

Legislature Ways and Means Committee Chair Brian May publicly called out the Board of Elections at Tuesday’s budget vote, saying staff fell short in explaining their department’s needs.

 “BOE really sort of failed, beginning with the work with the administration, to qualify and quantify their department needs for the coming year based on new laws, rules and changes that impact their expenses.”

Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny says the Board of Elections provided three pages of data and spreadsheets with every detail of how they'll be spending the money.

“We've given them this data. I stand by our data," Czarny said. "It's backed up by the New York State Board of Elections. It's backed up by New York State election law.”

 He says, for example, that election law tells them how many inspectors they need per election district.

 "This is a math issue. It's not a subjective issue," Czarny said. "So if they gave us more money than this year, great. It's a presidential year next year. We have three elections next year, not two, and we have 76 percent turnout instead of 40 percent turnout.”

Czarny and Republican colleague Michele Sardo say despite a year that will require more staff and funding, they weren’t called to appear before the ways and means committee during the budget review process.

 “Putting it on paper is completely different than being there face to face," Sardo said. "That was a difficult thing that we weren't able to do to actually explain our case.”

Sardo says she’s voiced her concerns to lawmakers who seem to understand the need to be properly funded and staffed. So, she says, their rationale is not clear.

 “I do not know what they made their decision off of and why we didn't get some of what we asked for," Sardo said. "I have not had a chance to talk to the legislature since the vote, so I that's something I will be doing to find out what happened.”

In the end, lawmakers approved nearly a half million dollars in additional contingency funds. The commissioners say it’s a good start, but still falls far short of what they need to meet mandatory expenses. Czarny says they're likely going over budget, but will meet with lawmakers and the county executive after both the April and June primaries to see where things stand.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at