The outcome of the too-close-to-call District 20 congressional race in upstate New York may hinge on two critical court rulings that could be handed down as early as tomorrow.
Just 86 votes now separate Republican Jim Tedisco from Democrat Scott Murphy. The latest State Board of Elections figures show Murphy with 79,105 votes to Tedisco’s 79,019.
The first question is whether the candidates should be permitted to challenge ballots that the county election commissioners of both parties have already ruled on as either valid or invalid.
Murphy’s supporters have charged in recent days that Republican poll workers have been filing illegitimate objections to ballots. The Tedisco campaign has defended its challenges -- and Murphy’s campaign has filed challenges of its own.
Challenged ballots are set aside for later adjudication, and are not added into the vote totals reported to the State Board of Elections. So the 1,200 challenged ballots are not reflected in the current vote totals reported by the state.
The second anticipated ruling is whether the candidates should be allowed to contest county election boards’ decisions on the issuance of absentee ballots. Republicans have objected that many Congressional District 20 absentee ballots went to voters whose primary residences are in other jurisdictions, such as New York City.
Tedisco spokesman Tyler Brown told Newsmax Wednesday evening: “In order for the next congressman to start addressing the important issues facing this country, residents of the 20th Congressional District need to have confidence that this election was decided fairly, and not unduly influenced by residents of New York City."
New York Judge James V. Brands is expected to rule on the two disputes any day. Attorneys for both campaigns made their arguments before Judge Brands on Wednesday, and Brands is expected to issue his rulings by week’s end.
In such a close election, Brands’ decisions could easily swing the outcome of the closely watched election. A Murphy victory in a district with 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats would be viewed by Democrats as further evidence of their burgeoning political power.
The Tedisco-Murphy special election will decide who will replace popular Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand. A game of Beltway musical chairs began when then-Sen. Hillary Clinton became Obama’s Secretary of State. New York Gov. David Paterson appointed Gillibrand to fill Clinton’s Senate seat. That vacated Gillibrand’s House seat, leading to the special election.
Gillibrand, whose approval ratings suggest she’s something of a political rock star in the 20th District, provided a colorful sideshow to the Tedisco-Murphy battle on Wednesday. She revealed that her absentee ballot was among those challenged by Tedisco as invalidly cast.
It seems a Republican poll worker noted that Gillibrand had visited the district on Election Day, and her absentee ballot was challenged because she could have cast a ballot in person at the polls rather than by absentee.
“The challenge is frivolous and without merit,” fumed Gillibrand spokesperson Matt Canter, according to the Albany Times-Union. “It seems to be part of a larger attempt to disenfranchise voters and delay a Democratic victory in the 20th Congressional District.”
So far, five of the district’s 10 counties have finished counting all ballots other than the ones that have been challenged.
The demographics of the five counties still counting votes do not bode well for Republicans, however. Four of them -- Essex, Dutchess, Columbia, and Warren -- favored Democrat Murphy on Election Day.
In the fifth county, Rennselaer, the machine count favored Tedisco by about 500 votes. But the paper ballots broke narrowly for Murphy.
Longtime upstate New York pollster Steven Greenberg observes: “It looks like four of the counties still counting paper ballots are Murphy counties, and one of the counties is a toss-up county.”
Greenberg is shying away from concluding that Murphy is in the driver’s seat, however. He says the race is just too close.
“I think we are where we were on election night,” Greenberg tells Newsmax, “Whether you’re a Murphy supporter or a Tedisco supporter, you’ve got to wait until they count every last single vote, because this election is likely to be decided by double digits, or maybe less.”
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