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NYS judge allows affidavit ballot counting in key House, state Senate races

A New York judge allowed two upstate boards of election count 1,200 affidavit ballots as scheduled Tuesday, upholding a revised state law that prevented political candidates from interfering in the process.

State Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte issued his ruling at 10 a.m., just as Oswego County officials had planned to start counting ballots, according to The Post-Standard. Officials in neighboring Onondaga County, which is home to Syracuse, were set to start counting affidavit ballots early in the afternoon.

A lawyer for Republican state Senate candidate Rebecca Shiroff argued Monday afternoon that a new state law that allowed elections officials to scrutinize ballots instead of party officials should not exclude candidates from the process of validating some 1,200 uncounted votes, the newspaper said.

Shiroff’s objection came as she was 396 votes ahead of Democratic state Sen. John Mannion in New York’s 50th district, according to the outlet.

A delay would have also held up the complete counting in that tight race as well as the official certification of the NY-22 House district, in which presumed winner Brandon Williams, a Republican, was leading Democrat Francis Conole by about 4,000 votes.

The GOP had flipped four seats in the state, including in the 22nd District, under the new district lines on Election Day, and were one win away from retaking control of the House Tuesday, with the 22nd already factored in as a GOP win.

Conole, however, has reportedly refused to concede to Williams, claiming that uncounted affidavit and absentee ballots could still swing the race.

State Senate candidate Rebecca Shiroff
GOP State Senate candidate Rebecca Shiroff argued Monday that the state’s revised law should allow candidates to be involved in the affidavit ballot contest.
Shiroff For Senate
 state Sen. John Mannion
Lawyers for Democrat state Sen. John Mannion, who trailed Shiroff by 396 votes, argued that the new measure intended to leave the process in the hands of bipartisan election officials.
Senator John W. Mannion

Affidavit ballots are submitted by people who are eligible to vote but are unable to cast their ballots on Election Day due to problems like their name or address being absent or incorrect in the BOE’s log book.

In the past, New York party bosses could object to affidavit ballots on an individual basis after learning about the circumstances under which it was cast from elections officials. Now, under a newly revised state law, elections officials are required to review ballots themselves without input from party leaders, who can still observe the process but can’t make objections, the article said.

Shiroff’s lawyer, John Ciampoli, argued the language in the new measure was imprecise, and that it conflicted with an older section of election law that he said still allowed candidates to challenge the provisional ballots.

DelConte, a Democrat, seemed receptive to Ciampoli’s arguments Monday, asking out loud “What is to prevent ballots that shouldn’t be casted and counted being casted and counted if candidates aren’t allowed to participate in the process?”

State Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte
State Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte ruled to allow affidavit ballots to be counted Tuesday morning.
Voting in NY
DelConte’s ruling impacted vote counting in the tight House race between presumed winner Brandon Williams, a Republican, and Democrat Francis Conole, who had yet to concede.
AFP via Getty Images

“It’s very challenging,” DelConte said about arbitrating the arguments, according to the article. “We’re (reviewing) a new law on a rapid-fire basis.”

Lawyers for the boards of election argued the law was intended to take politics out of the process. However the state Board of Elections, which is helmed by Republican and Democratic commissioners, was internally divided, with GOP officials agreeing with Shiroff that party leaders should be involved in counting the ballots, and Democrats disagreeing, according to the report.

It’s not the first time DelConte was forced to rule on the issue. Last January, he ordered a late review of than 1,000 affidavit ballots in the congressional district, holding up the results of the still then undecided race between Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi and his Republican challenger, Claudia Tenney.

Tenney won the seat by a razor-thin margin and was elected to represent the state’s 24th congressional district last week amid this year’s controversial redistricting process.

A court-appointed expert created Republican-friendly lines throughout the state after a judge ruled that Albany Democrats in the state Senate tried to illegally gerrymander the districts to preserve the party’s majority in a state delegation that was shrinking by one seat as New York loses population.

The results of the race between Shiroff and Mannion as well as a yet-to-be-determined tight race in Brooklyn’s 17th district, will determine if Democrats will hold their supermajority in the state Senate.

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