Common Council leaders are seeking an inquiry into practices at the Erie County Board of Elections, but an elections commissioner said their complaints are political in nature, not governmental.
The Council will consider a resolution today that takes issue with changes in the Democratic Committee’s zone boundaries, which are set by the party, but raises other complaints about how the board functions and seeks an investigation by the Erie County Legislature.
The resolution is sponsored by four members of the Council majority: President Richard A. Fontana, President Pro Tempore Bonnie E. Russell, Majority Leader Demone A. Smith and Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen.
Smith acknowledged that part of what he is trying to do is to make a statement and that the Council does not have authority over party functions. But constituents have complained about changes in polling locations, he said, and the board should have to answer for that.
Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward, who said voters were duly notified of changes in their polling places, lambasted the authors of the resolution.
“It’s really an embarrassment to them that they don’t understand how government works,” he said. “This is essentially an intraparty complaint that should be directed at Democratic Party headquarters.”
Peter A. Reese, a member of the party who is upset with the zone changes, said he was glad the Council was taking up the issue, even though its jurisdiction is murky.
“The way the board operates, it might as well be the party,” said Reese, a lawyer who has sued the board.
Council members, who aren’t zone leaders, weren’t notified about the zone changes, but the party did solicit input from zone leaders in November, County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner said. The committee’s officers approved the new zone map in late December, and it was common knowledge in the party that a reorganization was taking place, he said.
“It’s kind of absurd to me,” Zellner said of the resolution. “If any Council member wanted input on these things, they never contacted this office about it.”
Zellner said that the resolution’s sponsors did not support his candidacy for chairman and that this kind of opposition “goes with the territory.”
Smith said that he and his colleagues are concerned about changes in the zone boundaries and that Council members should have been notified. Zones are a function of the Democratic Committee and are collection of election districts in the city that have leaders and are comparable to towns.
The resolution would require five votes for passage today, and Smith said he will have what’s needed. If it does pass, it’s unlikely to get any attention in the Legislature.
“To talk about a political initiative in a government agency that’s supposed to be nonpartisan is disappointing,” said Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo. “I don’t think it should be addressed in a government body that should be nonpartisan.”