Fire District Election Tasks
Compliments of AFD-NYS Fire District Affairs
Once again, it’s that time of year we prepare for the Annual Fire District Election. In preparation for the Annual Fire District Election, the Fire District Secretary will prepare and publish the fire district election notice. It is important that the election notice has all the required information. The notice must:
- List the fire district,
- State the date, time, place, hours of and location of the election,
- State the office(s) on the ballot including terms of office,
- State any proposition(s) on the ballot and provide the text of the actual proposition(s) to be voted upon,
- Advise of the requirements for voter registration to be eligible to vote at the election,
- Advise of the method by which candidates for office may file to be placed on the ballot [letter or petition as selected by the Board of Fire Commissioners], and
- Provide information on voting by absentee ballot if the Board of Fire Commissioners has provided for absentee ballots.
The Board of Fire Commissioners must make the determinations that assist the Fire District Secretary with preparing the notice. The Board will determine matters such as:
- The hours that the polls will be open.
- The location(s) within the fire district where the election will be held,
- Any propositions that it will place on the ballot,
- The method of filing for office [letter or petition], and
- Whether or not absentee ballots will be permitted.
These decisions should be finalized in October to align with specific deadlines, allow the Secretary ample time to fulfill his or her responsibilities and provide candidates for office with information to assist with their campaigns.
The Secretary must contact the county board of elections to obtain the list of registered voters that reside in the district as of the statutory registration date [at least 23 days before the date of the election].
The list of registered voters will enable the Secretary to:
- Verify the eligibility for residents to serve on the Fire District Board of Elections,
- Verify the eligibility of persons to sign candidate petitions when the Board requires candidates to file petitions to be placed on the ballot,
- Determine the fire district voters on the disabled voter list for absentee ballot processing, and
- Provide the Fire District Board of Elections with a list of registered voters so it can verify the eligibility to vote of persons appearing at the election site to vote during the hours of the election.
The Board of Fire Commissioners must decide whether it will utilize election machines or paper ballots so that the Secretary can obtain election machines [if they are to be used] and arrange for printing of ballots. Only election machines that have been approved for use by the State Board of Elections can be used for a fire district election and this means that election machines will be obtained from the County Board of Elections if election machines will be the method chosen for voting.
The Board of Fire Commissioners will also adopt a resolution appointing people to service on the election board for the fire district election. They must be residents of the fire district who are registered voters. The Board should consider the background and experience of the people selected to make certain they also have the knowledge necessary to perform the duties assigned. It may be necessary to provide training to election personnel. If the fire district is using optical scanning voting machines to conduct its election, the local county board of elections may be able to provide a list of experienced election personnel trained on those machines who reside in the fire district for consideration to appointment to the election board. Elected officers of the fire district are not permitted to serve on the fire district election board.
The Secretary will be required to prepare the ballot for the fire district election. The Secretary will receive letters or petitions for potential candidates for fire district office based on the procedure provided for by the Board of Fire Commissioners. The Secretary prepares the ballot for the election by placing the names of candidates properly nominated for ballot placement on the ballot. The Secretary must also make certain to insert a blank space for a write in candidate for each office on the ballot. The ballot will include the fire commissioner office and treasurer office (if the district has an elected treasurer office) scheduled to be placed on the ballot and any other fire commissioner offices rendered vacant by October 1 st of the election year. Furthermore, if the Board of Fire Commissioners has resolved to place any proposition on the ballot, the Secretary must place that proposition on the ballot.
If the Board of Fire Commissioners has authorized the availability of absentee ballots for fire district elections, it is the Secretary’s responsibility to handle absentee ballot applications and distribute absentee ballots to eligible individuals as indicated by these applications and the disabled voter list certified by the County Board of Elections. As part of this procedure, the Secretary will collect absentee ballots and deliver them to the Fire District Board of Elections on the day of the election.
In conducting the actual election, the persons appointed to the Fire District Board of Elections will appear at the election site on the date of the election and take over the site and equipment/ materials necessary for the election’s proceedings. It is important to remember that the Fire District Board of Elections conducts the election. This task is delegated to the members of the election board by the Board of Fire Commissioners. The members of the Board of Fire Commissioners have no role in the conduct of the election.
The Fire District Secretary should be present at the election to provide support and assistance to the Fire District Board of Elections. Other fire district support staff should be available to assist the Fire District Board of Elections with the logistics of conducting the election. The Fire District Secretary should arrange for the Chairman of the Fire District Board of Elections to have access to fire district counsel in case legal issues arise during the election. It is important that order be maintained at the election site and that the members of the Fire District Board of Elections make certain that the election site remain free from electioneering during the election: There shall be conspicuously placed, by the resident fire elector, distance markers at a distance of one hundred feet from the polling place. Such distance markers shall be so placed at least one-half hour before the opening of the polls and shall remain until such polls are closed. The one hundred foot distance shall be deemed to include a one hundred foot radial measured from the entrances, designated by the resident fire elector, to a building where such election is being held. While the polls are open no person shall do any electioneering within the polling place, or in any public street within the one hundred foot radial, or within such distance in any place in a public manner. No electioneering banner, button, poster or placard on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate or issue to be voted upon shall be allowed in or upon the polling place or within such one hundred feet therefrom during the election.
Any person who willfully violates the provisions of this subdivision shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Town Law § 175 It is important for the members of the Fire District Board of Elections to recognize that this is a public election and rules are in place to maintain public confidence in the election process and the election result. Individuals are not permitted to remain and loiter at the election site. They should vote and leave the premises. Non-voters should not be present and should not remain at the election site. People necessary to assist the Fire District Board of Elections may be permitted to remain. The Fire District Secretary, fire district counsel, a computer consultant to assist with equipment, etc., are non-voters who have legitimate reasons to be present and remain present. However, people who feel the election site is a good place to socialize should be asked to leave.
Once the polls have closed, the doors must be reopened to allow observers, and the restriction on remaining present ceases. The public is entitled to witness the vote counting process and hear a public announcement of the election outcome. The Fire District Board of Elections conducts the vote count in an open, transparent manner, without moving to a separate room. It counts them in the open!
All official ballots shall remain in the custody of election inspectors within the polling place from the opening of the polls until the announcement of the result of the canvass and the signing of the inspectors’ returns thereof. After the polls shall have been closed at any election held for the election of fire district officers or to vote upon a proposition, the election inspectors and ballot clerks shall immediately canvass publicly the ballots cast and the chairman of the election shall publicly announce the result. According to Town Law § 175 those in attendance from the public have the privilege to observe and listen during the process, but they are not entitled to offer comments or actively engage in the vote counting and result certification. The Fire District Board of Elections can establish a barrier to ensure observers remain behind it. The Chairman of the Fire District Board of Elections should coordinate with the Fire District Secretary to ensure the proper preservation of the ballots. These ballots should be kept by the Secretary as part of the fire district records, aligning with the fire district records retention program and the LGS-1 Records Retention Schedule.
It’s important to note that ballots and election records are not discarded; instead, they are maintained as fire district records for the designated retention period. After the result is announced, the Secretary must prepare the canvass or result of election document and arrange for it to be signed by the members of the Fire District Board of Elections. Within seventy-two hours thereafter, the chairman, election inspectors and ballot clerks shall execute and file a certificate of the result of the canvass with the board of fire commissioners and with the town clerk of each town in which said district or any part thereof may be located. According to Town Law § 175 the Secretary should make certain that the members of the Election Board sign the canvass before they leave at the conclusion of the election. The Secretary files the canvass with each town clerk of the town(s) in which the district is situated and obtains a filing receipt for district records within that seventy-two (72) hour period. That time period does not leave the Secretary much time to obtain signature from Election Board members who left the election site without signing the canvass. The law also imposes a duty on the Secretary to inform successful candidates of their election and advise them of the date of the annual fire district organization meeting in January.
Conducting a fair election is a fundamental aspect of our democratic values and way of life. The Election Board members and staff should strive to ensure that the election is carried out in an orderly, transparent, and equitable manner. Here are a few concluding questions for you to consider as you implement your election preparation plan and think about experiences from past elections:
NOTICE OF ELECTION.
Did you verify that the public was notified in a timely manner for your election?
Publication of legal notice?
Public posting of legal notice?
Posting legal notice on your website?
Posting notice of election on your signboard?
Sending legal notice to Town Clerk(s)?
CANDIDATE PETITION FILING.
Did your legal notice specify the petition filing requirement and direct candidates on how to file a petition?
Did the Secretary make petitions available for candidates in a timely manner?
Was the Secretary proactive in scheduling office hours on the date of the deadline and the days leading up to it?
Did the Secretary staff the office on those days?
Were instructions provided on how to properly fill out the petition and file it?
Did you use a computerized system to verify voter registration?
Did the hardware work?
Did the software work?
What problems, if any, arose?
Were there problems checking registrations with paper books?
How can the problems be solved in the future?
CHALLENGE VOTER PROCEDURES.
Have you set up an affidavit ballot protocol and a separate balloting area/ ballot box for voters not verified as registered to vote?
Have you trained your personnel on the procedure?
What problems, if any, occurred at past year’s election with people seeking to vote, but not registered?
How can the problems be solved in the future?
Transition between voter registration verification and voting. Did the voter registration approval count match the tally of votes cast?
Did you resolve any discrepancies?
Are there any issues between the registration verification process and voting at the voting station?
Do voters have a location to vote where their privacy is 100% protected?
Policing the site and electioneering. Were signs posted at the election site on voter conduct and “no electioneering”?
Were “do not electioneer” signs and 100-foot radius signs placed outside the building?
Was loitering of voters after casting ballots prevented?
Were candidates and their surrogates prevented from approaching voters at the site and within the 100- foot radius? Were poll watchers prevented from engaging in electioneering?
Were poll watchers prevented from harassing election personnel?
Were people at the election site prevented from using cellular phones?
THE FINAL RESULT.
Were the machines inspected and vote tally taken off them in public view? Were paper ballot votes counted in public view?
Was the final result publicly announced to those present at the time it was completed?
Was the result announcement placed on the fire station intercom?
Was the result available to the public from the dispatcher after it was announced?
Were the candidates notified of the result?
Completing the Written Report/ Canvass of Election. Did the Secretary prepare the canvass with the vote tally provided by the election board?
Did the members of the election board sign the canvass?
Did the Secretary sign/ certify the canvass?
Did the Secretary file a copy of the canvass in the district file?
Did the Secretary file the canvass in the office of the Town Clerk of each Town in which the district is located within seventy-two  hours of the close of the election?
Did the Secretary report the result at the next meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners?
Annual Organization Meeting. Was the successful candidate(s) notified of the date for the organization meeting to be held in January?
Hopefully, this information will prove helpful as you prepare for your 2023 Annual Fire District Election.