As Scott Murphy’s tiny lead shrank Wednesday, both he and James Tedisco said they were confident that paper ballots would propel them to Congress.
A recount of voting machine results Wednesday showed Murphy, a Democrat, only 25 votes ahead of his GOP opponent after being 65 votes ahead late Tuesday, according to an unofficial count done by The Associated Press.
More than 154,000 votes were cast at machines in the 10-county district.
No absentee or affidavit votes will be counted until after Monday, when a state Supreme Court judge will rule on how and when the ballots will be counted.
“The campaign is over, but the election is not,” Tedisco said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon in his Halfmoon headquarters.
The unofficial count was 77,217 for Murphy and 77,192 for Tedisco in the district that has a Republican advantage of 75,000 registered voters, according to The Associated Press.
The race could get nasty with court battles in the coming weeks, said Leonard Cutler, director of the Center for the Study of Government and Politics at Siena College.
He referred to a 2004 election for the state Senate where incumbent Nicholas Spano was declared the winner by a mere 18 votes over challenger Andrea Stewart-Cousins. That race spent three months in court after the election before Spano was named the winner.
But another political observer believes the race will be settled in about two weeks.
“Typically when they open the absentee ballots, the trend will be very clear very quickly,” said Helen Desfosses, political science professor at the University at Albany.
Desfosses said the campaign managers probably have a good idea who will win, based on the absentee ballots that were handed out.
“Tedisco’s either having champagne right now or he’s having another Tums. Murphy is either having champagne right now or he’s having a couple of Tums.”
Publicly, both were having champagne.
On Wednesday, Tedisco appeared confident and said he believes he will prevail after all the votes are counted.
He advocated for no paper ballots to be counted until after April 13, the deadline for military absentee ballots to be received by the county election boards.
So-called “local” absentee ballots — sent to voters who can’t get to the polls because they live in nursing homes, are disabled, plan to be away on business or are spending the winter in the South — are due Tuesday.
“We want total and open transparency. We want to let the chips fall where they may,” Tedisco said. “I really believe that’s what [Murphy] wants.”
Murphy’s spokesman did not return calls or e-mails for comment Wednesday.
Murphy made an appearance at Poopie’s diner in Glens Falls on Wednesday to thank volunteers.
“Eight weeks ago, we were down over 20 points and they said this couldn’t be done,” he said. “The election results proved something very different.”
The Democratic National Committee put out a memo Wednesday saying the absentee ballots are likely to mirror the margin of the machine tallies, which would give Murphy a win.
Judge James Brands in state Supreme Court in Poughkeepsie will rule on Monday on the paper ballot counting in response to a petition filed by Joseph Mondello, chairman of the New York State Committee of the Republican Party, and Patricia Killian, chairwoman of the Dutchess County Conservative Party.
By 3 p.m. Wednesday, 6,381 absentee ballots of the more than 10,000 sent out had been returned to the county election boards, said John Conklin, spokesman for the state Board of Elections.
Of the absentee ballots sent out, 4,473 were sent to Republican voters, 3,390 to Democrats and 1,974 ballots to those enrolled in small parties and nonaffiliated voters.
“Each candidate has the right to be present when the ballots are opened and counted,” Conklin said. “They can make objections to them at the time.”
Howard Becker, Tedisco campaign finance director, said several lawyers have come forward to help out in the far-flung counties.
Tedisco probably will have an edge in the absentee ballots because of his name recognition, Cutler said.
How much of an edge may depend on whether the Murphy campaign reached out to absentee voters, who may not know Murphy if they have been out of the area since late January.
“They would know who Scott Murphy is if the organization … reached out to these absentees,” Cutler said.
Both parties touted the odds they overcame to win the votes they did.
Democrats noted the 75,000-voter Republican enrollment edge in the district, while Republicans emphasized that the district has overwhelmingly voted for Democrats for national seats in the last several elections.
The special election brought a 36 percent turnout — the highest in any special congressional election in the nation in the last 10 years, Tedisco said.
The eventual winner will fill an open seat vacated by Kirsten Gillibrand when the Democrat was appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the rest of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s term.
Even if it takes awhile to get a new congressman, the district won’t miss out on federal economic stimulus funds by not having a representative, since most stimulus money is going through the state and being distributed by county, Desfosses said.