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Onondaga County Delays Ballot Counting After Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19; Balter Concedes

Scott Willis

The canvass of Onondaga County’s absentee ballots has been temporarily halted after a Board of Elections employee tested positive for COVID-19. However, the exposure to volunteers and others involved in the counting process appears to be minimal.


Democratic Elections commissioner Dustin Czarny says the employee hasn’t been at work since November 5th.

“This employee was never part of the absentee ballot process, so the exposure is limited to the Onondaga County Board of Electionsstaff. It’s been several days since November 5th. This employee was admitted to the hospital today, and that’s when the test was administered.” said Czarny.

Since it’s been a little over a week since exposure, Czarny, republican commissioner Michele Sardo, and the other 30 or so employees have been tested and are awaiting results.  They should know within 48 hours, and if everyone’s negative, they hope to resume counting next week.  After all, there’s a November 28th certification deadline to meet.  

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Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny

“Anything more than 3 or 4 days is going to be problematic. We’ll have to see if we have to make alternative plans. We have let the state Board of Elections know what’s going on. The governor’s office also knows what’s going on.” said Czarny.

While they wait, the commissioners say the ballots are in a secure room with bipartisan locks that only Czarny or Sardo can open.  About 100 elections workers, volunteers, campaign staff, and lawyers have been scattered across four large rooms since Tuesday.  Commissioner Sardo knows there’s a risk even if they’re taking precautions.

Credit WAER screenshot
Republican Elections Commissioner Michele Sardo

  “Without the people coming in and observing the ballots, it was a concern. Even though everyone had a mask on and made sure everything was wiped down and sanitized, it’s always a concern.” said Sardo.

Of the 57,000 ballots received, about 27,000 are left to be counted. 



Here's what we know so far about results:


On Friday, Democratic candidate Dana Balter conceded after absentee ballots weren't enough to overcome incumbent John Katko's 57%-37% lead after election night. It was 55.6% to 40.5% after 30,000 ballots were counted. In the four county district, 71,370 absentee ballots were cast, 57,407 in Onondaga County alone. In a statement, Balter thanked elections officials for their professionalism and that they still need the time and space to finish counting votes. She also congratulated Katko.

"I hope that in his next term, he will advocate for policies that will help working families in this district. As I’ve said since the beginning of my campaign, central and western New Yorkers deserve affordable and accessible healthcare, an economy that works for working people, and a political system free from the influence of big money."

Balter also thanked those who dedicated their time and energy in supporting her message that "everyone deserves a fair shot at success."


Also on Friday, incumbent Sen. Rachel May declared victory over republican challenger Sam Rodgers.  She was ahead by just 136 votes on election night, but her lead surged to 11,000 after most of the absentee ballots were counted.  We talked to Sen. May, and we'll have more Monday on Morning Edition.


Counting had just gotten underway in the hotly contested, wide-open 50th senate district race between democrat John Mannion and republican Angi Renna.  She held a 7,200 vote lead on election night, but that has dwindled after an initial count of absentee ballots began Friday.  Renna received 2,257 votes to Mannion's 5,047.  There are 37,098 Onondaga County absentee ballots in that race, and just over 38,000 overall.  Renna's campaign is already contesting hundreds of ballots that are not included in the totals.

The 127th assembly district also remains too close to call.  Republican challenger Mark Venesky had a roughly 1,000 vote lead over incumbent Al Stirpe.  So far, 6,600 out of 19,572 ballots have been counted, with Stirpe receiving 4,319 votes to Venesky's 2,071. 

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