New vote tallies in the bitterly fought 20th Congressional District in upstate New York put GOP Assemblyman Jim Tedisco within striking distance, just a scant 25 votes behind Democratic venture capitalist Scott Murphy.
On Election Day, unofficial results showed Murphy with a 65-vote lead over GOP Assemblyman Jim Tedisco -- out of 154,629 votes cast.
But as counties begin to canvass the actual voting machines, comparing their recorded vote totals with the results called into central county election boards, the gap is narrowing.
The Associated Press reports that now Murphy only leads by 25 votes, 77,217 to 77,192. The totals are expected to continue to fluctuate in coming days as the counties continue their canvassing efforts to ensure the correct vote totals were phoned in on election night.
The voting machines have been impounded under lock and key by a court order obtained by GOP officials seeking to avoid a repeat of Minnesota’s marathon election dispute between GOP Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken.
As Newsmax first reported Tuesday, that court order also prohibits precincts from counting absentee ballots. The ballots can only be evaluated and counted by county election boards, in the presence of representatives from the two campaigns.
All eyes are turning to those absentee ballots: The candidate who wins the majority of those ballots is likely to win the election.
A county-by-county Newsmax analysis of absentee ballots in the 20th Congressional District race suggests they will probably duplicate the razor-thin margin of the election itself.
That would set the stage for a drawn out, post-election recount struggle that could mirror the marathon election contest that has kept Minnesotans from having a second U.S. Senator for five months now. The 20th District race has been portrayed as an important symbolic test of the popularity of President Obama’s policies.
Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg reviewed a county-by-county tabulation of absentee ballots compiled by Newsmax and was struck by how closely it paralleled overall trends from the election.
“I’m open to why the absentee voting should be different, but so far I haven’t seen it,” Greenberg tells Newsmax. “I haven’t seen anything out there that makes we think the paper ballots should be any different than the machines. The one thing out there that gives me pause is the large number of military ballots.”
There were 1,006 absentee ballots sent to U.S. service personnel who are serving overseas. Pollsters say military absentee ballots tend to favor Republicans. The deadline for receipt of those military ballots is April 13, and how many of them will be submitted for tabulation remains to be seen. Some county election commissioners say they will wait until after that day to count the absentee ballots, to ensure all military and international absentee ballots have been received.
One indication the post-election political maneuvering has already begun: Two separate projections on Wednesday anticipate how those all-important absentee ballots will likely fall, both concluding Murphy’s advantage will swell, carrying him to victory. Election experts tell Newsmax both projections have rather obvious flaws, however.
The first, an analysis circulated by Democrats and reported in the Washington Post blog The Fix predicts that Democrat Murphy will win by 210 votes, once the dust settles and the absentee ballots are counted.
That projection, however, puts the number of absentee and military ballots at 5,584 -- 323 fewer than the number the State Board of Elections reported the day before the election, and over a thousand fewer than the number reported in the county-by-county canvass Newsmax conducted Wednesday.
The election boards tell Newsmax they have already received over 6,600 absentee ballots, a number that will increase somewhat as more of the mail-in ballots continue to trickle in.
Also, the county boards have an undetermined number of provisional, or “affidavit,” ballots. Voter registration information those ballots must be verified before they are counted.
The second prediction that Murphy will win, published by TheHill.com, also significantly underestimates the current number of absentee ballots. More importantly, because it was based on a Siena College poll, it shows 462 “undecided” absentee voters -- when in actuality there are no “undecided” votes on actual ballots.
And because the actual vote on Election Day was even closer than the 4 percent Murphy margin reported in the poll, polling experts tell Newsmax that analysis has a built in pro-Murphy tilt.
The Newsmax canvass of county election commissioners shows that, so far, 3,131 absentee ballots have been received from voters registered as Republicans, compared to 2,333 from voters who are registered Democrats.
While that works in Tedisco’s favor as a Republican, it’s unclear how much it helps him. That’s because on Election Day Murphy wooed voters from the GOP at a higher rate than Tedisco garnered Democrats.
And while absentee ballots from U.S. military personnel serving abroad should help Murphy, those numbers may be small. As of Wednesday, election officials reported that fewer than 200 military ballots had come back in, along with about 150 absentee ballots from citizens living abroad.
One absentee trend clearly working against Tedisco: A disproportionate number of absentee ballots were received from the “north country” counties that heavily favored Murphy – Essex, Warren, and Washington.
“That tells me this is still very much an open question,” Greenberg tells Newsmax. “Both campaigns are going to want to count every single ballot, because the way this is coming in is more balanced than the vote was.”
National election expert Larry J. Sabato, the director of the Virginia-based Center for Politics, agrees that the absentee ballots, just like the general election ballots, are too close to call in District 20.
“I’m genuinely not sure,” Sabato tells Newsmax. “That’s because I’ve just been through the spin ‘n dry from both parties. Republicans certainly have a substantial edge in the military absentees, but how many will there be? Democrats claim to have run an active absentee vote campaign among people leaning their way -- and the GOP says the same. I wouldn’t be surprised with either outcome.”
Weary of pundits claiming the election would have great symbolic importance for the Obama administration, Sabato added, “In a way, I’m glad it’s a dead heat. Special elections like this one are given entirely too much prominence. In isolation, and so far from a general election, they really don’t tell us much, or anything, of lasting importance.”
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