Suffolk County Republican elections commissioner Nicholas LaLota on Feb. 25,...

Suffolk County Republican elections commissioner Nicholas LaLota on Feb. 25, 2016, at his office in Yaphank. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Suffolk Republican elections commissioner Nick LaLota is going high tech to answer a recent county comptroller’s audit that was “unable to ensure the accuracy of the hours worked” by either the GOP or Democratic commissioners or their top aides.

LaLota, in a letter to Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. last week, said he intended to install a $500 biometric time clock to verify his presence and that of his top staff. They'll all clock in and out on a time clock with a fingerprint scanner.

“Considering today’s world where someone who is not guilty has to go above and beyond to prove their innocence, I am writing to ensure my Republican administration and I are held to the highest standard,” LaLota told Kennedy.

LaLota said his move will bring the “timekeeping process into the next decade” — unlike other county departments, which rely on honor-based time sheets. The Board of Elections, which uses a traditional punch clock for most workers, will be “raising the bar even further” with the new technology, which will be in place within two weeks, LaLota said.

Initially, the scanner will be used only by top GOP election officials including LaLota, his deputy Irene D’Abramo, senior assistant commissioner Mark Gallo and assistant commissioner Erin McTiernan. It also will be used by Hispanic outreach coordinator Jesse Garcia, the new Suffolk GOP chairman, who says it will “increase accountability and give the voting public confidence their tax dollar is being spent properly.”

LaLota said in an interview, “The intent has always been to do the right thing here and this will prevent any naysayers from casting doubt on our integrity.” 

Still dissatisfied, however, is legislative Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague). He originally requested the audit in September 2017 after LaLota began attending Hofstra Law School. He attended some daytime classes in his first year while holding a full-time county job.

LaLota called Gregory’s audit request politically motivated, saying he puts in the required 70 hours of county time every two weeks.

Gregory said a fingerprint scanner has “no real substance” because officials can clock in at nine, leave for hours and return to clock out at five.

“I see no real improvement if it doesn’t capture every time you leave the building,” he said. Gregory also said a scanner would not address the fact that LaLota in the audit acknowledged he counts time taking calls and emails out of the office as part of his work hours.

Far different from most county departments, the $14.3 million-a-year elections board, by law, is a hybrid, overtly partisan agency. Under state law, the 120 jobs are free of civil service constraints. They are split evenly between the two major political parties and filled by politically appointed commissioners with input from county party leaders. The board registers voters, runs elections, counts votes and certifies winners.

Kennedy, the GOP candidate for county executive, said the nature of the board, where separate rules apply, made the audit difficult.

But Kennedy praised LaLota’s initiative. “I’m optimistic that he has elected to go ahead and take some action,” Kennedy said. “Audits are supposed to give rise to corrective action.”

Anita Katz, the Democratic elections commissioner, called LaLota's initiative “a very interesting idea and I’m considering it.” But she said, “We’re at work here every day, so it’s not a problem for us.”

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