OLEAN — Exactly what the makeup of the Common Council will be in January will come down to absentee votes in two race — including an election for a different government body.
Council, as of now, has three Republicans and two Democrats set to be on the panel next year, but an alderman and Cattaraugus County Legislature race could shift the balance between the parties.
The most obvious case is that of Ward 7, where Republican Reed McElfresh leads by four votes over Democrat David Anastasia, a former alderman and county legislator.
According to the county Board of Elections, 16 absentee ballots were received by the end of business Tuesday, out of 22 issued. Counting will begin Nov. 19.
On the one hand, absentee ballots typically do not flip Election Day returns, as they often mirror average voters from the polling district. However, some elections have flipped to new winners after counting, most commonly in races with razor-thin margins like that seen in Ward 7.
However, there is a possibility that neither candidate wins.
Under city code, if the candidates tie — which could happen if Anastasia receives four more absentee votes than McElfresh — the seat will be declared vacant and the mayor would appoint an alderman. Any such appointment by Republican Mayor Bill Aiello would have to be confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the council, and would be for the full term.
ANOTHER QUESTION is if Ward 5 will lose its alderman.
On Election Night, a close race for the Cattaraugus County Legislature’s District 8 seats indicated that the council could lose another member.
While former council President Rick Smith, a Republican, came in third in an eight-way race for three positions, former legislator and council president Adam Jester came in fourth, while current council President John Crawford came in fifth.
The spread between the three candidates is just 25 votes. With 112 absentee ballots to be counted, it’s possible that Crawford could end up in the post if he receives enough votes from those who couldn’t get to the polls on Tuesday or in early voting.
If Crawford wins and takes the Legislature seat, he will have to give up his position on the Common Council with one year left in his term. At that point, the mayor will have the authority to appoint an alderman.
Aiello, since taking office in 2014, has appointed one alderman to the council, Kelly Andreano to represent Ward 2 in 2014 after Republican Ann McLaughlin resigned. Two individuals indicated an interest in that post, the mayor said, both Republicans.
ALONG WITH a Ward 5 vacancy would also be the council presidency.
Under the city charter, a vacancy in the post can be filled by a vote of the council.
Veterans of the council are typically favored for such positions.
Incumbent Republicans include Nate Smith, R-Ward 6, who with eight years on the council is the longest-tenured member; and Kevin Dougherty, R-Ward 4, who won his third term on Tuesday. Incumbent Democrats include Linda Witte, D-Ward 1, a former mayor and 2017 mayoral challenger to Aiello; and former president Paul Gonzalez, D-Ward 3.
However, Jason Panus, the Republican winner in the Ward 7 race, and a potential appointee for Ward 5 would not be automatically disqualified, as there are no longevity requirements for the position. Crawford, for example, was one year into his first term when tapped for the role.