ALBANY (TNS) — When polls closed on Election Day and machine votes were tallied, it looked as if the state Senate’s Democrats would be unable to obtain a supermajority.
In fact, the chamber’s Republicans declared victory the very next day (“What you saw last night was a repudiation of one-party rule,” Senate Republican Leader Robert Orttsaid at a news conference) and promised to pick up several seats this election cycle — not enough to flip control, but enough to deny Democrats their longed-for veto-proof margin.
But as absentee ballots continue to be counted, races across the state are tipping in Democrats’ favor.
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Kevin Thomas, who was running for re-election in the 6th District representing part of Long Island, captured enough paper ballots Monday to keep his seat. Tuesday afternoon brought a second Democratic win, with Elijah Reichlin-Melnick taking the lead in the 38th District.
Democrats expect to secure two more Senate seats after ballot counts Tuesday, inching the party closer to a 42-seat supermajority.
”I think we’ll be locked in at 40 seats by the end of today, and there will still be four more races to be determined,” Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris said on Tuesday. “There are a lot of people who are going to look really foolish when this is all over and counted.”
Incumbent Democratic Sens. James F. Gaughran and Andrew Gounardes, trailing their Republican challengers by about 3,000 votes and 1,900 votes respectively, also expect to succeed in their district races, where thousands of absentee ballots remain to be counted. Democrats and third-party voters account for the majority of returned absentee ballots in these races, likely leading to a Democratic victory.
In the 46th District that includes part of the Capital Region, Democrat Michelle Hinchey is trailing Republican Rich Amedure by roughly 5,800 votes — but there are 15,000 ballots that remain to be counted. The two are vying for the seat currently held by Republican George Amedore.
While New York’s absentee ballot process historically creates delays in counting votes, legal challenges to the paper ballots have also played a role in slowing the results this year. Those challenges are coming from both sides of the aisle, but Democrats say the ballot challenges from GOP attorneys have been particularly egregious.
”We ran into a flurry of objections to ballots,” Onondaga County Democratic elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny said, noting that the majority came from Republican Senate candidate Angi Renna, who currently is ahead of Democratic candidate John Mannion by more than 3,500 votes. “They are objecting to various different things, and so that was slowing it down quite a bit.”
Czarny said the objections have fallen into four major categories: allegations of ballot signatures not matching the signature on file; incomplete affidavit ballots; questioning the chain of custody for all absentee ballots dropped off at boxes located at polling sites; and missing dates on signed ballots.
Republicans say their challenges to ballots are to protect the integrity of the election and alluded to improper conduct on the part of past election officials as reason to be vigilant. Democrats argue these objections in many cases amount to nothing more than voter disenfranchisement.
”These efforts to block and silence voters tells you everything you need to know about the New York State Republican Party,” Senate Majority spokesman Mike Murphy said. “It’s not surprising considering they opposed all efforts to make voting easier and to protect people’s rights.”
When Renna’s campaign was asked for comment regarding the ballot challenges, Senate Minority Office spokeswoman Candice Grove responded with an emailed statement.
”Given the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots across the state, campaigns from both parties are taking action to preserve the integrity of elections by examining these ballots,” Grove said. “At the conclusion of this routine process a court will review any objections and ensure that they are properly counted.”
Along with ballot challenges, election officials also must contend with spiking coronavirus cases in their communities. Onondaga County on Friday had to halt absentee ballot counting after a staff member at the local elections board tested positive for the coronavirus. Parties impacted by the delay agreed with election officials to continue the count on Nov. 30.
Czarny and other Democrats are befuddled by the Republican strategy, which they said is unlikely to change the outcome of contested state races.
Jim Long, an Albany election attorney, said most of the objections raised by Republicans are technical errors — such as a date missing on the ballot — that have been largely dispensed with through legislation. Further, voters now can fix issues like a missing signature or date on absentee ballots.
”Because of the pandemic and the need to treat this election differently, the word ‘differently’ becomes inherently something that one party or another will use as an objection,” Long said.