Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 19 November 2010 00:00
The Board of Elections (BOE) began the arduous process of recounting absentee and affidavit votes in the race for the New York state’s 7th senate district last Wednesday. However, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Democrat and Republican representatives were present before a New York State Supreme Court justice.
Election results currently show Mineola Mayor Jack Martins in front of incumbent Sen. Craig Johnson, with an estimated 3,535 absentee ballots and 724 affidavit ballots still to be counted. The specific total number of emergency ballots; paper ballots used if a machine is broken throughout the 7th senate district, sits at 131 unscanned.
Currently, absentee and affidavit ballots are being counted. There are 260 voting machines in the 7th senate district.
Martins widened his lead by 74 votes Thursday, but took a dip Friday. As of Monday morning, Nov. 15, Martins was ahead of Johnson by 246 votes. Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner William Biamonte said that number would continue to fluctuate.
Biamonte feels the current voting machines should be abolished and there should be a return to the original voting machines. He stated that the count would by no means be finished anytime soon.
“We have a lot of people counting as fast as they can,” he said. “As far as the new voting system, this was a ridiculous idea to begin with.”
At the Board of Elections, a small sample of ballots is taken from random machines for a quality control audit of 3 percent, according to election officials. If a large discrepancy is found, the entirety of the paper ballots are taken and counted by hand.
“Statistically, it would be very difficult for that much of a vote difference to be overcome,” Martins said in an exclusive interview with the Mineola American. “But certainly until they count every vote, there’s no such thing as an impossibility. Our hope is that every vote is counted and that it’s counted efficiently and quickly if the opposition stops dragging their feet and allows the process to proceed.”
Martins said it’s unfortunate that the ballot counts started with a session in court and that it’s not necessary for this since the voting process concluded as it always does, with the people voicing their choice. Furthermore, it’s an indication as a last-ditch effort by the opposition in slowing the process down, according to Martins.
“My opponent saw fit to, before the votes were even counted, to go court,” he stated. “Which is unfortunate. There are rules that are in place; there are laws that are in place that dictate how votes should be counted. The fact that someone would go to court before the votes are counted to try to change the rules basically, is indicative of the greater issues that we deal with today.”
Austin Shafran, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) said there are still thousands of ballots to be counted. “We want to make sure that every ballot cast has been accurately counted. Once all the votes tallies are in, we are confident who the winner of the 7th senate district race will be,” Shafran said.
He stated further that the current voting machines are flawed and that’s why a “real and honest count is needed so that we have an accurate reading of the outcome of the election.”
“They wanted a recount when there hadn’t even been a count yet,” Martins stated. “Let’s count all the emergency ballots, military ballots, absentees and make sure everyone had the opportunity to have their vote counted. Then, let’s look for whether or not there are any inconsistencies that would cause further steps. But the first step is to count the votes.”
Lawyers for the Democratic and Republican county parties were in front of Judge Ira B. Warshawsky to dispute the results last week. The Democratic Campaign Committee filed an order on Election Day.
Shafran concluded that the DSCC is taking the necessary steps and that it appears the only way to maintain the integrity of the election may be to move to a full hand recount.
“We’re going back to the dank cold room where we count votes,” Democratic legal council Steve Schlesinger said after Friday’s proceedings. “The same room, same trailer in the back.”
“Both sides have a right to know who won,” Martins said. “Not only does Craig [Johnson] have a right to know, but so do I and the voters of the 7th Senatorial District and New York State.”
Two cases were argued on Wednesday, Nov. 10, where a voter was allowed to vote by affidavit after a machine at Floral Park Memorial High School broke down, and the votes inside the machines counted, and the issue of counting absentee ballots in the overall race.
The issue arose after a Floral Park resident Michael Montagne attempted to vote, but the electronic voting machine broke down and could not be repaired, according to election officials. A new machine was brought to the polling place and voting continued.
“My understanding is a machine broke down and in the interim, there were emergency ballots cast and voted on a separate form and placed in a separate bin as the new machine was being put into work,” said Martins.
There are two other races left too close to call in New York State in Westchester and Buffalo. Westchester Incumbent Democrat Suzi Oppenheimer was leading Republican challenger Bob Cohen by 180 votes, excluding absentee, affidavit and emergency ballots. Buffalo Incumbent Democrat Antoine Thompson was trailing Republican Mark Grisanti by 468 votes.
“The votes are in on all races,” Martins said. “We’re just going about counting the votes that were cast on at the beginning of November. I can’t stress enough, let’s get them counted and I stress that for Buffalo and Westchester.”
On Friday, Judge Warshawsky ordered council of both parties to continue the count of absentee and affidavit ballots. Furthermore, he asked that both parties consider a 3 percent audit of the 7th Senate District alone. However, BOE representative Thomas Garry said that the audit is countywide and at random. However, it will be taken into consideration.
“We need to count the votes that are there,” John L. Ryan said. Ryan represents the Republican Election Commission. “The process has to get going.”
Warshawsky ordered that the county audit continue. It’s slated to begin on Nov. 24. Garry stated that the count may or may not include all the machines in the 7th Senate District, which is why Warshawsky asked council to consider a separate audit.
“The court is not going to issue any hand recount at this time,” Warshawsky said. The other ballots need to be counted. I want the county audit to continue. My only concern is it doesn’t start until Wednesday.”
“The law requires a 3 percent audit,” Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli said. “We obviously want to get that process going. We want to get it done.”
The two sides are due back in court on Nov. 29.