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Ballot count schedule questionable

By Lombardo David
Friday, November 9, 2012

The schedule for counting paper ballots in the 46th state Senate District is unreasonable if anything can be gleaned from the recent Republican primary in the nearby 43rd District.

Lawyers for Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, and Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk met in state Supreme Court in Fonda today to determine how and when absentee and affidavit votes will be counted. Tkaczyk currently has a 139-vote lead in the race for the seat, which includes parts of Montgomery, Schenectady and Albany counties, but more than 10,000 absentee and affidavit votes are still up for grabs.

Counting of paper ballots won't begin until Nov. 19, the last day for counties to accept affidavit ballots, per a decision from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Albany County starts Nov. 19, with Greene County starting the next day and Montgomery County the day after. The Thanksgiving holiday pushed Schenectady County's start back until Nov. 26, and Ulster County will begin the next day.

The race in the 43rd District was decided about two weeks after primary day, with each of the four counties taking about a day to count their absentee ballots. In Friday's court proceedings for the 46th District, each of the counties were assigned one day to count paper ballots.

The problem is that the Republican primary in the 43rd Senate District involved only about 1,000 paper ballots in the four counties combined, while each of the five counties in the 46th Senate District have more than 1,000 paper ballots.

Based on the schedule ordered by Judge Guy P. Tomlinson, each county will initially have one day to count paper ballots, with the possibility of more days starting Nov. 28.

A complete story on today's court proceedings will appear in the Gazette on Saturday.

The current process will also be hindered by the decision to only count one county at a time, which was a request from the candidates' attorneys, who argued it will ensure efficiency and prevent frivolous objections to ballots that will need to be reviewed by a judge. Additionally, Amedore attorney David Lewis objected to counting multiple tables in a county at once, saying he didn't have the staff to do it.

Paper ballots were counted in Renseelaer and Columbia counties at the same time in the Republican primary for the 43rd District. Also during that process, two separate counts were ongoing in Saratoga County, which still took a day to count about 450 paper ballots.

Schenectady County Board of Elections Commissioner Brian Quail estimated in court that it would take the county seven or eight days to count its paper ballots if it goes one table at a time. If that same rate is applied to Albany and Ulster counties, which have two and three times as many paper ballots, respectively, they would take 35 days to complete.

Attorneys for both sides are confident this timetable and process will allow paper ballots to be counted quickly, with counties required to report their presidential election total to the state by Dec. 1. Lewis cited the speed of past counts but acknowledged, “Maybe I'm out of my mind.”

Tkaczyk attorney Frank Hoare added that the timetable and process will expedite things and serve the public well.

"I think it is very doable," he said of plans to finish by early December.

A handful of election commissioners lingering in the courtroom today expressed serious doubts about the rosy outlooks of the lawyers, however.

A large variable in this equation is the number of affidavit ballots. There were 390 affidavit ballots cast in Montgomery County, which Amedore won big on Election Day, and 346 cast in Schenectady County, which he also won. Affidavit counts for Albany, Greene and Ulster counties have not been revealed yet, although a lot are expected from Ulster County.

The county boards of elections will now begin going through these ballots to determine which are valid. Typically affidavit ballots are deemed invalid, but a common example of valid ballots are those cast by voters declared inactive because they haven't voted in a long time. These voters are usually going to the polls because they're excited about a candidate, which could benefit Tkaczyk, considering the late surge of momentum for her candidacy.

That late surge could be a mixed bag, though, as Amedore's early stranglehold on the race could mean he does better with absentee voters.

Next week, all five counties are required to run audits of their voting machines and review a small percentage of the votes cast to ensure they match unofficial results.

Follow @GazettePolitics and @poozer87on Twitter for updates in this race.

 
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