Election’s next steps in Capital Region: Wait before counting absentees

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While the outcomes of most races are known, the final vote tallies in this year’s election are still days or weeks away, as elections officials await more arriving absentee ballots and start counting them next week.

The absentee count will run higher than in past years after state lawmakers allowed concerns about the pandemic to qualify as a reason to vote absentee, and Capital Region counties experienced record levels of absentee voting.

Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 to count but can arrive at county elections offices until Nov. 10. Most county elections officials in the Capital Region said they plan to start the counting process Monday or Tuesday. The absentee counts are public affairs, where candidates and observers can challenge the decisions of elections commissioners determining one-by-one whether ballots meet qualifications.

Schenectady County plans to start counting the ballots Tuesday and officials in other counties in the region said the counts would start Monday or Tuesday.

Fulton County, though, doesn’t plan to start the absentee count until Nov. 16, beginning the count after the final arrival deadline for absentee ballots, the one for oversees military voters. The county’s deputy elections commissioners on Wednesday said waiting until after the military deadline was “past practice” and had already been communicated to candidates and campaigns in the county.

Elections officials across the region on Wednesday said ballots were still coming in and that they were ironing out the details of how to manage the logistics of holding the public vote counts while maintaining health precautions. Candidates, representatives of political parties and members of the media typically observe the counting process.

With absentee ballots continuing to trickle in, and some counties still tallying absentee ballots that were dropped of at poll sites Tuesday or are still arriving by mail, it’s not clear just how many votes remain outstanding and whether they will be determinative in any key races. But still well over 80,000 absentee ballots combined had been received by seven Capital Region counties – Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga, Rensselaer, Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie – during this year’s election, according to preliminary tallies provided by the counties this week.

Over 21,000 absentee ballots were received by Saratoga County, where President Donald Trump registered 51 percent of the early votes and Election Day votes, compared to Joe Biden’s 46 percent, according to unofficial results with all of the county’s election districts reporting. Trump led Biden in the county by over 5,500 votes as of Wednesday morning.

In Schenectady County, where at least 13,300 absentee ballots wait to be counted, Biden led Trump with just shy of 52 percent of the county’s vote, or a lead of over 4,100 votes.

Albany County has at least 28,000 absentee ballots to count; Fulton County has over 3,200 absentee ballots; Montgomery County has over 3,200 absentee ballots to count, and; Schoharie County has at least 2,400 absentee votes still to count.

Some voters still have a chance to “cure” certain problems with envelope signatures and other fixable problems before their ballots are disqualified; elections officials must notify voters who qualify to cure problems and will continue to do so as ballots arrive. When the ballots are counted, a secondary envelope is opened and the ballot is sorted in a voting machine.

Though the numbers are not final, Tuesday’s results signaled just how big of an increase in turnout this year’s election saw compared to 2016. Turnout increased in all Capital Region counties, except Fulton County, and turnout will likely continue to climb as counties continue to compile and ultimately count the absentee ballots.

Turnout surged by over 10 percent in Saratoga County – climbing to around 130,000 total votes between over 27,000 early votes, over 80,000 Election Day votes and over 20,000 absentee ballots. In Schoharie County, where with over 9,000 votes, Trump had already expanded on his 2016 turnout in the county, turnout grew by 9 percent.

Schenectady County saw an increase of over 8 percent and so did Montgomery and Rensselaer counties. Overall numbers will continue to climb in the coming days.

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