New York Republicans Tuesday slapped the state’s Election Board with a wide-ranging injunction to prevent Minnesota-style snafus seen in the Al Franken-Norm Coleman race from disrupting the hard-fought 20th congressional district race in upstate New York.
That close race between Democratic newcomer Scott Murphy and veteran GOP state assemblyman and staunch conservative Jim Tedisco has drawn national attention as a symbolic referendum on the economic policies of President Obama.
State GOP party officials say they want to ensure that the goings-on in Minnesota -- which saw an initial Coleman lead of over 775 votes steadily dwindle to a deficit of 225 votes, with an indeterminate number of ballots being counted twice and other ballots either disappearing or being discovered weeks after the election – don’t occur in the Empire State.
The Minnesota election has dragged on five months, and despite a long-awaited election panel ruling Tuesday, that marathon dispute still has no end in sight.
The 28-page order issued Tuesday by New York state Supreme Court Judge James V. Brands of the County of Dutchess impounds voting machines, ballots, ballot envelopes, and restricts the counting of absentee ballots to central locations rather than precincts.
One state election official tells Newsmax that Greene county election officials had planned to permit each precinct in the county to determine which absentee ballots should be opened and counted on Tuesday evening. That may have triggered the state GOP injunction.
In Minnesota, allegations that different standards were used by different precincts in the state to determine which absentee ballots would be counted have played a central role in the election dispute that now appears likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court, and possibly beyond.
The impound order requires that each county establish a central location where all absentee ballots will be counted. Moreover, all parties involved, including the campaigns, must be notified in advance of the opening and counting of absentee ballots. Sources tell Newsmax most of the 10 counties that comprise the 20th congressional district already follow that practice.
Michael McCormack, chairman of the Dutchess County Republican Committee in upstate, tells Newsmax it is “fairly accurate” to say that New York Republicans sought the impound order to head off a repeat of embarrassing complications that afflicted Minnesota’s electoral process.
“We want the election to be very fair and done correctly,” McCormack tells Newsmax. “That’s all we can ask or can expect, and we need to take precautions accordingly.”
He added “I don’t think in Minnesota all the factors have been taken in yet. That said, you have to be very careful, and take precautions regarding the election, and election results, so the outcome from the election is the correct one. It doesn’t matter which side: It has to be the correct decision, because the voters deserve to have their voice recognized.”
McCormack said state GOP leaders were being “very cautionary.” He stressed that he did not originate the impound petition, which was brought by Joseph Mondello, chairman of the New York State Committee of the Republican Party, and Patricia Killian, Chairman of the Dutchess County Conservative Committee. Mondello and Killian did not immediately respond to a Newsmax request for their comments Tuesday.
McCormack hastened to add of the impound order, “I think it was a very good idea.”
“We need to have the elected official be elected by the people who put them in office, and not by some other means,” McCormack tells Newsmax. “It’s a matter of putting rules in place that are fair, even, and even-handed. Obviously in Minnesota that was not the case.”
Turnout was reportedly strong in the Saratoga area Tuesday, which would help bolster Tedisco’s chances because polls show him leading Murphy in that area. Some anecdotal reports Tuesday suggest however that voters have been seriously turned off by what they perceive as Tedisco’s negative tone during the campaign.
“Whoever does a better job of getting out the vote today, that’s the campaign that will win,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg tells Newsmax.
The expansive 10-county district in upstate New York is considered a GOP stronghold. Voters identify with the GOP over Democrats by a 41 percent to 26 percent margin, and Republican voter registration exceeds that of Democrats by 70,000 people. Yet those statistics are probably misleading, insiders say.
Tedisco, a strong critic of President Obama’s stimulus plan, has seen his early lead in the race evaporate. Despite his status as a relative unknown, Murphy, a venture capitalist, has rapidly closed the gap with Tedisco. The latest Siena College poll shows Murphy leading by 4 percentage points, at 47 to 43 percent.
Tedisco has dismissed those results, saying the campaign’s internal polling shows him holding onto a slight advantage. If the race is as close as polls suggest, the tabulation of ballots will receive careful scrutiny, and there could be calls for a recount.
Absentee ballots could play a pivotal role in the 20th district outcome, if the election is close.
New York state authorities tell Newsmax that 10,055 absentee ballots were distributed, including about 1,800 to military service personnel and other citizens living abroad.
As of Monday, 5,907 of those votes had been received by election officials. More are expected to arrive in coming days, and by law counties have up to seven days after the election to complete their tabulation of absentee ballots.
New York law requires that absentee ballots must be postmarked by March 30. That also applies to overseas ballots, but the state has extended the deadline for those ballots to be counted to April 13.
That alone suggests that if the election in New York’s 20th district is as tight as predicted, voters could face a delay before the outcome is certain.
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