The tedious counting of some 6,700 absentee ballots began Wednesday in many of the 10 counties in the district and is expected to take a few weeks.
The campaigns for Republican James Tedisco and Democrat Scott Murphy each have a cadre of election law att-
orneys overseeing the counting and making objections to ballots that are questionable.
The special election March 31 left the race for Kirsten Gillibrand’s open congressional seat too close to call.
Although a state Supreme Court judge said the counties could start tallying absentee ballots Wednesday, some counties are still bogged down in paperwork they had to file before starting the absentee count, said John Conklin, spokesman for the state Board of Elections.
“It’s possible that some counties didn’t even get started today,” he said Wednesday.
A vote tally with updated numbers from Wednesday’s counting is expected to be released today on the Board of Elections Web site.
Counting began at 10 a.m. at the Saratoga County Board of Elections and is expected to continue from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day for about three weeks, said Diane Wade, Republican commissioner.
“You have to go district by district,” she explained.
By lunch time, county staffers had gone through the town of Ballston and were working on Clifton Park as they made their way alphabetically through more than 1,800 paper ballots.
When lawyers for each side object to a ballot, it is set aside for the judge to rule on.
“It’s a long, tedious process,” Wade said.
The lawyers scrutinize the applications for absentee ballots and the ballots themselves.
GOP election attorney James Walsh said he objected to some ballots because the voters were not eligible to vote. In some cases, signatures don’t match what the board has on file. Other applications were filled out incorrectly, he said.
In Saratoga County, more of the absentee ballots counted so far were cast for Tedisco than for Murphy. “I’ve been very optimistic about what’s happening here,” Walsh said.
The Murphy campaign declined to comment on the process.
Besides Walsh, Schenectady County Legislator Robert Farley also watched counting at Saratoga County for the Tedisco campaign, and attorneys John Ciampoli and Michael Cuevas are among about two dozen lawyers helping the Tedisco campaign during the counting.
Some of the lawyers are volunteering their time, said spokesman Tyler Brown, adding the campaign wouldn’t comment on how much the others are being paid.
The Democrats’ counting is being overseen by Henry T. Berger, a New York City election lawyer who worked as counsel for the Hillary Clinton for Senate campaign and the John Kerry for President campaign.
Hiring the lawyers is likely to add to the campaign spending, which at last count topped $2 million total.
“When you have an extremely close race, a virtual dead heat, and you have thousands of paper ballots, there’s going to be a good deal of understandable contention as to which ballots have been legitimately cast and which have not,” said Jerry Goldfeder, an election attorney in New York City who has no affiliation with either campaign.
Goldfeder said the 20th Congressional District race count is not likely to last longer than two months.
“There will be challenges to whatever rulings the boards of elections make and then there will be court rulings, but we have a very expedited judicial procedure for these kinds of cases,” said Goldfeder, who works for Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, served as special counsel to state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and teaches election law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Without the absentee results included, Tedisco has a 17-vote lead over Murphy.
A recount of machine ballots in Essex County gave each candidate another vote on Wednesday, so the updated total is 77,035 votes for Tedisco and 77,018 for Murphy.