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All eyes on NYS recounts

Nov 20, 2010 12:48 pm
ALBANY - While many continue to eye Alaska for newsworthy post-election battles, some of the biggest fights involved in our collective political hangover from November 2 are right here in New York State. And the Hudson Valley. Furthermore, with the State Senate lying in the lurch as recounts mount and lawsuits line up, even Governor-elect has stepped up to the plate to ask that things be settled, either way, sooner than later for the state's health.

Simultaneously, many notable poll watchers, as well as politicos of all stripes, are blaming the state's recent shift from lever machines to electronic voting for many of the problems now being sorted through.

On the statewide level, the big bugaboo in the balance is the state Senate, long Republican held, more recently Democratic by a slim 32-30 margin, and now teetering mightily. According to the Associated Press, via the Albany Times Union, incumbent Democratic senators Craig Johnson of Long Island and Antoine Thompson of Erie County are trailing as absentee ballots are being counted while Westchester Democrat Suzi Oppenheimer has a slight lead... and that's not counting a nailbiter in Dutchess County where the lead seems to be shifting daily, by a coiuple hundred votes, as absentees are getting counted between incumbent Democrat Frank Skartados and his Republican challenger Thomas Kirwan, who was closely defeated two years ago. All four Democratic incumbents must be re-elected for Democrats to obtain the majority.

On Thursday, Nov. 18, New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman set deadlines for settling court challenges in the three close state Senate races, not including Skartados-Kirwan, that requires trial court rulings by Dec. 6, midlevel court reviews by Dec. 15 and hearings at the top Court of Appeals by Dec. 20.
Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo requested prompt action in a speech on Wednesday to avoid a Senate without a functioning majority come Jan. 5, when the state's next legislative session starts.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats in recent days laid the groundwork for legal motions to count every paper ballot cast and read by an optical scanning machine based on problems reading electronic "memory sticks" in Erie County. Republicans say the request does not meet necessary legal thresholds, and they note standard audits of 3 percent of the scanners have not shown irregularities.

In the Skartados-Kirwan race, according to Kingston Daily Freeman reporter William Kemble writes today that Orange County Board of Elections officials yesterday announced revised vote totals that gave Kirwan a 207-vote lead over incumbent Democrat Frank Skartados in the race for the state’s 100th Assembly District seat. Before the tally of Orange County absentee ballots, Kirwan had a 110-vote lead. However,
Dutchess, the other county in the 100th District, was to begin tallying 545 absentee ballots and 202 affidavit ballots only Friday afternoon, Nov. 19, where in Election Day machine votes, Skartados led Kirwan, 5,781-3,129.

Kirwan, who lives in the Orange County town of Newburgh, was in the Assembly for seven two-year terms before being unseated by Skartados in the 2008 election by a vote of 22,490 to 21,578 led by demographic shifts in Dutchess County that have been shifting that part of the valley more Democratic.

On the congressional level, the Times Union reported this week that two House races remain too close to call, with Democrats Tim Bishop in the 1st Congressional District and Dan Maffei in the 25th District having now gone to court requesting hand re-counts of the paper ballots.

On Long Island, Bishop had a 3,400 vote lead on election night and was declared the winner after poll workers called results into the local election board. But a miscount was discovered later, giving Republican Randy Altschuler a lead of about 400 votes. In the Syracuse-area 25th District, where Republican Ann Marie Buerkle leads Maffei by about 700 votes, state Supreme Court Justice Brian DeJoseph ruled last week that each side may inspect all the absentee ballot applications. A legal request is in for a hand recount.

Unlike many states, New York law does not trigger a re-count even if the margin between two candidates is wafer thin. Some states require a re-count if the margin is less than half a percent. Instead, every county is required to audit three percent of its new voting machines to identify any discrepancies in the voting results. Counties involved in the close races are completing their audits now, and none has reported any major problems, dimming the chances that a judge would grant a re-count.

Meanwhile, in the wide and strangely gerrymandered 22nd Congressional District, which stretches from the Hudson River to west of Binghamton, Republican George Phillips finally conceded to U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey on Friday, Nov. 19, even though he trailed Hinchey, D-Hurley, by about 8,200 votes. Phillips, a Binghamton high school history teacher who also lost to Hinchey two years ago before remaking himself as a Tea Party favorite this year, claimed that with some 12,000 absentee ballots still to be counted following the election, he "wanted to make sure every vote was counted."

Hinchey’s lead at the end of Election Night was 90,412 to 82,202, or 52.4 percent to 47.6 percent.

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