The Lockport and Starpoint school districts are among a group of districts in Niagara County who are experiencing delays in the mailing of ballots to registered voters due to an envelope shortage.
Officials from both districts, as well as the Niagara Falls School District, confirmed Friday that NTS Data Services, the private company handling the distribution of ballots, is dealing with a shortage of envelopes needed to complete the mail-in voting process.
NTS Data works with school districts in New York and the New York State Board of Elections to oversee various aspects of election procedures. The company is assisting Lockport, Starpoint, Niagara Falls and other school districts in Niagara County in preparing for the June 9 budget votes and school board elections, which will feature voting by absentee ballot only under emergency procedures put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
NTS Data Services did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order directing school board elections to be conducted through mail-in ballots due to COVID-19, ballots are required to be delivered to voters in districts by June 3, which is Wednesday.
Lockport Superintendent Michelle Bradley confirmed that the delivery of ballots to voters in her district has been delayed by the envelope issue. Bradley said NTS Data Services informed district officials on Friday morning that the lack of a sufficient number of envelopes large enough to accommodate the oversized ballots is impacting their delivery.
"We're going to be monitoring the situation," Bradley said.
Lockport school officials tried to contact NTS Data twice by telephone on Friday and also sent an email. District officials also asked to speak with representatives from company, according to Bradley.
"We've tried to make contact ... We've been unsuccessful at this point," Bradley said.
Bradley said the company has communicated, in the email, that it is trying to address the situation.
"They've stated that they are exploring every possible option to remedy the issue, and so we fully expect that NTS will fulfill that obligation to mail the absentee ballots on a timely basis," Bradley said.
Friday's development comes on the heels of Lockport officials having to correct a postcard sent to registered voters on May 23 that contained inaccurate information suggesting a four-year voting history was required to vote in this year's school board election. The district has since worked with NTS Data Services to develop a corrected postcard, which is expected to be sent to district voters soon.
Starpoint Superintendent Sean Croft said his district has not contracted with NTS Data Services before and normally would handle absentee voting internally, as only about 50 are needed in normal times.
As a result of the absentee voting, Starpoint and other districts in Niagara County were told to use NTS Data Services. He said the Starpoint district needs the company to produce and distribute about 12,000 absentee ballots this year.
Croft said the company told district officials that Starpoint's ballots would be mailed this past Tuesday. They were not, he said.
"This week we were just waiting, kind of monitoring to see when residents would actually start receiving them in the mail," Croft said. "Maybe Thursday, maybe some Wednesday."
NTS Data Services informed Starpoint at 10 a.m. Friday, via email, that the ballots had not gone out yet and they were having supply issues with envelopes.
The Friday morning email was the only communication Starpoint got from the company, Croft said.
"No one from NTS is picking the phone up," he said. "That's another issue that all of the districts are having. We've been calling them all day since we received this. You can't get ahold of anyone over there at the company.
Croft described the Friday development as "frustrating."
"We're upset. We're scrambling ... They were supposed to be in the hands of my residents today and we're getting word today that there is envelope problems," Croft said.
Niagara Falls Schools Superintendent Mark Laurrie said he was told about what appears to be an envelope shortage in the northeastern United States at noon Friday. Laurrie was told that NTS Data is working to find sources of additional envelopes and has reached out to state assembly and senate offices for assistance.
"They said they were trying but couldn't give me a definitive answer," Laurrie said.