The Niagara Falls School District originally expected to begin mailing out ballots for the June 9 budget vote and school board election this past Tuesday.
At noon on Friday, district officials were alerted to a potentially significant issue: The company handling the distribution of ballots is dealing with a shortage of envelopes needed to complete the mail-in voting process.
District officials confirmed Friday that they were informed by representatives of the private firm NTS Data that, as a result of the company being unable to secure a large enough volume of envelopes, ballots in the district were not mailed out on Tuesday as originally planned.
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 Niagara Falls and other school districts in Niagara County in preparing for this year's 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.
The newspaper has confirmed that, in addition to the Niagara Falls School District, officials in the Starpoint School District are faced with the same issue. Additional districts in the county may be impacted as well, officials said.
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.
The newspaper contacted NTS Data by telephone and email on Friday afternoon and did not receive an immediate response to requests for comment.
Under the executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandating the vote-by-mail process, the district is required to have all ballots mailed to voters by June 3, which is next Wednesday. The district needs 26,833 envelopes to meet its needs by then, Laurrie said.
Laurrie said he has notified members of the school board and all five certified candidates in this year's election about the issue.
"We have our faith in NTS and we are expecting them to come through," Laurrie said.
"There is time," he added, "but it's a weekend and June 9 is coming soon."
Longtime school board member and candidate in this year's Falls school board election Russell Petrozzi expressed frustration over the situation, describing it as "a real mess."
Petrozzi said he timed his campaign advertising in coordination with the anticipated Tuesday mailing of the ballots. He's not certain now how the ballots will be mailed or when they will be mailed at this time.
"It means a ton of wasted money," he said. "Who knows what they are going to do now."
Petrozzi said it speaks to the difficulty of coordinating a mail-in voting process in response to COVID-19 concerns, adding that he believes the process being rolled out under the executive order from Cuomo has created a lot of confusion generally.
"The governor should never have done it this quickly and it should have been more thought through," he said. "There's a state election going on too and everybody is confused. It's just a whole nightmare."