Counting Every Vote

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Absentee ballots prolong waiting

The coronavirus has changed everything, including the elections. For the first time, New York State introduced a period of early voting, and more than 2.5 million took advantage and went to the polls from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1. Pictured are voters at a poll site in Valley Stream on Election Day.
(Photo by Frank Rizzo)

Before the pandemic, there were strict rules regulating who could request and receive an absentee ballot.
The accepted reasons included being out of the county, illness and disability and even being in jail awaiting adjudication of a crime. Only those convicted and imprisoned for a felony could not vote via mail.
The coronavirus changed all that. Governor Andrew Cuomo added the fear of the disease as another reason to vote by mail under the “temporary illness” provision of the absentee ballot law. The result was that about four times as many New Yorkers requested absentee ballots in the 2020 election than they did in 2016.

Reports indicated that county board of elections (BOE) began counting more than 1.5 million absentee ballots across the state starting Nov. 9. Nassau County, said a BOE official, began its count on Nov. 12. Reportedly, 2.4 million absentee ballots were requested.
By law, absentee ballots had to be postmarked no later than Election Day, Nov. 3, and arrive at the BOE offices by Nov. 10. Military and overseas ballots must be received by Nov. 16 (and also be postmarked by Election Day).

Absentee ballots determined three key elections

Unique New York
A number of states count their absentee ballots on Election Day, giving an immediate result for most races. So why does it take so long for New York to count all the ballots?
There is the sheer amount of mail-in ballots, which overwhelmed boards of election.

New York law lets voters change their minds and vote in person after mailing in a ballot. Under regulations, the posted ballot is tossed and only the in-person vote counts.
Election officials also have to check the large influx of absentee ballots against in-person voter records (once held in large polling books, now on tablet devices) to guard against anyone voting twice.
The state BOE also has to check all absentee ballots submitted against requests to ensure that no one cast ballots in more than one county. This process reportedly wrapped up on Nov. 6, In a labor-intensive and laborious process, BOE employees had to open each envelope and feed the completed ballot into vote-counting machines.

The June 10 primary, in which large numbers of mail-in ballots were processed for the first time, was criticized for numerous shortcomings. Before the general election, Anton Media Group asked New York State and Nassau County Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs, “Are you confident that mail-in balloting will not turn into a problem, like it did in the primary?”
“It only turned into a problem because staff was overwhelmed by the amount of absentee ballots,” Jacobs replied. “I think that’s going to happen again. I cannot see how something in the area of 2 million absentee ballots aren’t going to overtax the system. Now, that said, it doesn’t mean those votes don’t get counted. It just means there’s going to be a methodical, time-consuming process to get it done, and it may take two weeks before we know the actual final tally here in New York State.”

Many mail-in ballots were disqualified in June because of simple mistakes such as signatures in the wrong place and other minor technicalities. Fixes introduced in time for the general election included clearer instructions.
New York lawmakers consequently passed a new law allowing mail-in ballots to be “cured,” in the technical term. Voters will be notified by regular mail, email or a phone call and then have up to five days after being notified to correct the mistake on their ballot. This further delays the counting process. In addition, provisional ballots also have to be checked to avoid irregularities.
County BOEs have until Nov. 28 to report results to the state.

Indecision
Two-term 3rd District Democratic Congressman Thomas Suozzi of Glen Cove was, at the close of polls on Election Day, trailing Republican challenger George Santos of Queens, 68,991 to 67,522.
In a Facebook post on Nov. 7, Suozzi stated, “In my race there are 98,000 absentee ballots which represent over 25 percent of the overall vote. The political registration of the people that sent those ballots is 52 percent Democratic, 19 percent Republican and 29 percent independent or other. We are confident that I will win those ballots 2 to 1 and I will win the race by over 20,000 votes.”

Tom Suozzi, with now President-elect Joe Biden, held a press conference at press time claiming that absentee ballots had given him a lead in his race.
(Contributed photo)

Jacobs said that in Nassau, Suozzi would benefit by Democrats casting 26,000 absentee ballots to 9,700 for Democrats.

3rd Congressional District challenger George Santos (R-Queens)

Suozzi wound up overcoming Santos’ lead to win a third term. In a press release on Nov.17, Suozzi stated, “George Santos called me this morning to concede and congratulate me on my victory. I thanked him for his call. It is a great honor to serve as a member of
Congress and I look forward to continuing to work on behalf
of the people I represent. Our nation faces tremendous challenges and the division is distracting us from accomplishing our goals.”

 

6th Senate District
Incumbent Kevin Thomas
(D–Levittown), top, needed a boost from absentee ballots
to catch challenger Dennis Dunne Sr. (R–Levittown).

First-term state Senate incumbents James Gaughran (D–5) and Kevin Thomas (D–6) trailed their respective Republican opponents, Edmund Smyth and Dennis Dunne Sr. after Election Day tallies. Smyth leads by 13,848 votes with about 35,800 uncounted. Jacobs said that Democrats have a 6,000 lead in absentee ballots in the district. Dunne’s lead is 7,694 with about 28,130 uncounted. In the 6th, Jacobs noted, his party has a 6,500 advantage over the GOP in absentee ballots cast.

5th Senate District
Incumbent James Gaughran
(D–Northport) trailed
challenger Edmund Smyth
(R–Lloyd Harbor) after the
Election Day tally.

On Nov. 18, according to a press release by Gaughran’s campaign, Smyth called to concede as Gaughran gained his second term. Smyth led by 13,848 votes on Election Day, with about 35,800 uncounted.
The 5th encompasses the northern portions of eastern Suffolk and western Nassau counties.

 

 

 

5th Senate District challenger Edmund Smyth (R–Lloyd Harbor)

In a statement, Gaughran said, “I am humbled to be reelected by the residents of the 5th Senate District and I thank them for their support. I will keep fighting for my constituents, for Long Island, and
for all of New York State and I thank the voters for giving me the opportunity to continue to serve them.”

 

 

6th Senate District challenger Dennis Dunne Sr. (R-Levittown)

Thomas wound up clinching his 5th District race against Dunne
Sr., also of Levittown. Dunne, a current councilman in the Town of Hempstead and former Nassau County Legislator, conceded on Nov. 16 as Thomas gained a lead of more than 1,400 votes. At the close of Election Day, Dunne’s lead was 7,694 with about 28,130 absentee ballots uncounted.

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