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The pros and cons of New York politics

A New York State absentee ballot application.

A New York State absentee ballot application. Credit: Newsday

Daily Point

Wanted: One high-speed scanner

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive orders expanding absentee ballot eligibility and sending applications to eligible voters are sure to make county elections boards busy in June. 

That’s one reason Nassau Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner James P. Scheuerman has proposed the purchase of a high-speed scanner to tabulate absentees. 

But he hasn’t been able to get final agreement on that purchase from his GOP counterpart. 

“Although our budget and various grants allow for the purchase of the scanner, my Republican counterpart, Commissioner Louis Savinetti and his Deputy Commissioner Joseph Kearney, have refused to agree to purchase any device that would alleviate the need for the hand counting of voluminous paper ballots,” Scheuerman wrote in a Wednesday letter to Cuomo and other elected and elections officials. He shared the letter with The Point. 

The letter notes that the process of hand counting “typically requires at least forty employees handling ballots within close proximity of each other for eight hours a day, over the course of several consecutive days or even weeks.” With the new machine, which Scheuerman said costs $120,850, “less than five employees would need to handle paper ballots and only two employees would be required to feed the ballots into the machine.”

Scheuerman blames partisan politics for holding up the purchase. He says his team placed an order for the machine earlier this month with a GOP operations person on the email, but the GOP agreement on the machine was rescinded last week.

John E. Ryan, counsel to the Republican commissioner, says the issue hadn’t reached the commissioner’s level earlier in April.

“We’re not refusing to buy the machine,” Ryan said, noting that the Republicans are researching other machine providers and what other counties are doing. He says they’re aware of the time crunch and that “we are going to acquire a machine.” 

Scheuerman wrote that he hoped Cuomo could help with the machine situation before the county misses its opportunity to buy: “I would very much appreciate anything you can do to help us ensure that safety is put before politics at the Nassau County Board of Elections.” 

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Brother, can you lend some influence?

In normal times, New York’s partisan politics can be astonishingly cutthroat, but sometimes emergencies have a way of overriding those conflicts, and the coronavirus pandemic is providing numerous examples. The latest kumbaya conquest was a push, led by Suffolk County, to convince the Federal Reserve to rejigger a huge lending program. It’s a change that also will benefit Nassau, and counties and cities across the nation.

On April 9, the Fed announced the creation of a Municipal Liquidity Facility that would loan as much as $500 billion to cities and counties to help overcome short-term, cash-flow issues. Nassau’s property tax deadline already has been postponed from May 11 to June 1, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone wants an extension of Suffolk’s May 31 deadline. 

But the rules stated the money could only be borrowed by cities of more than 1 million people and counties of more than 2 million, leaving both Long Island counties out. And the fix now in place, lowering the limits for cities to 250,000 and counties to 500,000, required effort from both sides of the aisle. 

Here on the Island, the unlikely bedfellows were Bellone, a Democrat, and Republican County Comptroller John Kennedy. Bellone defeated Kennedy to be reelected last year, and the two regularly battle over county policy.

But in a conversation with The Point, Bellone was quick to praise Kennedy as central to the effort from the beginning, saying, “I worked closely with John Kennedy from the very beginning, figuring out what we needed and how to go after it.”

Bellone began pressing for the change in his daily news conferences about two weeks ago, and raised the issue on Fox News on April 20, but it took Long Island’s Washington workers to make it happen.

“Sen. Charles Schumer literally walked our letter into Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s office, and did the same with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell,” Bellone said. “And Rep. Lee Zeldin lobbied the White House relentlessly, and got me on the phone with Mnuchin at 9:30 Thursday night to make our case.”

It was a call that interrupted Bellone’s viewing of the NFL Draft with his son (he ducked into a bathroom to take it) but he’s not complaining!

While the borrowing ability will help many counties and cities, Suffolk had a lot more to lose than most. The Suffolk County Tax Act puts the towns in charge of collecting property taxes, and the county is the last entity to get its share. It’s expected that even with an extension many tax bills will be paid on time, via mortgage escrows or from residents directly. But some residents won't make timely payments, so the county last paid, could have faced a terrible cash crunch even if the towns, villages and school districts got all their money.

It’s not clear how long of a payment extension Bellone will seek for Suffolk County; he says he’s working with all entities involved to see what makes sense.

What is clear, Bellone said, is that the need for everyone to pull together regardless of party is going to be a constant as Long Island and New York fight to rebound from a health and economic tragedy whose effects will be felt for years.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

Summertime blues

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Bonus Point

A song parody for our times

In the long tradition of repurposing art and music to fit the times, here is a reworking of Bob Dylan’s classic, “Ballad of a Thin Man,” with apologies to the Nobel Prize winner and his immortal Mr. Jones.

Ballad of a Thin Man

You walk into the room briefing papers in your hand

You don’t want to read them because that’s just not your brand

You try hard to be convincing but you don't understand

Why you’re not getting a polling bump

Because something is happening here but you don't know what it is

Do you, Mr. Trump?

See the full parody here.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie