Both sides are expressing optimism as they await the start of counting about 1,000 absentee ballots that will decide the Republican nomination in the 43rd Senate District. That will begin Thursday.
As of Tuesday, Saratoga County Clerk Kathy Marchione led Sen. Roy McDonald by 122 votes. About 1,490 absentee ballots were mailed out to Republicans in the district, with about 983 absentee votes received by the local board of elections as of Tuesday morning.
The two sides met for about an hour behind closed doors in state Supreme Court on Tuesday morning in Ballston Spa to determine the schedule for checking machine ballots from primary day, auditing the machine results and then counting the absentee ballots. The process of verifying the machine results, which includes an audit of 3 percent of the votes cast, is scheduled to begin this morning in Rensselaer and Saratoga counties and on Friday in Columbia County. Washington County has already completed this process.
The canvassing of absentee ballots will start in Washington and Rensselaer counties on Thursday morning and in Saratoga and Columbia counties on Monday.
Saratoga County has received 404 absentee ballots, Washington County has received 20, Rensselaer County has 321 and Columbia County had 249. On primary day, Washington and Rensselaer counties were won by Marchione and Saratoga and Columbia counties were won by McDonald.
After Tuesday’s court proceedings, lawyers from both sides were confident they would emerge victorious after the absentee ballots were counted.
Marchione campaign lawyer Michael Cuevas, chairman of the city of Schenectady Republican Committee and a veteran of the Schenectady mayoral recount in 2011, said that absentee results typically mirror the machine votes, which is in his client’s favor. He added that absentee voters are also generally more conservative, which should benefit Marchione’s chances.
“We’ll maintain the lead,” Cuevas said.
The other lawyers for Marchione are James Walsh, also a veteran of the Schenectady mayoral recount in 2011, and former U.S. Rep. John Sweeney, who represented parts of the Capital Region until 2007 and was involved in the Florida presidential recount in 2000.
The McDonald campaign also feels like it is in a good place, though, according to its lawyer, Jeff Buley.
“We’re confident that we have a lot of absentee votes that are going to be canvassed for Sen. McDonald. He did an aggressive absentee ballot campaign and we’re optimistic that we can overcome our current deficit,” Buley said.
Neither side has publicly alleged any voting irregularities on primary day that might complicate or delay the counting process.
Regarding the length of this vote-count process, Buley said, “The closer it is, the more time it will take.”
He added that McDonald’s campaign would not make frivolous objections to the validity of absentee ballots.
Challenges can be made to absentee ballots by lawyers from either campaign, who will be on hand to review the counts in each county. Absentee ballots that are challenged are put aside and ruled upon by the local board of elections commissioners and possibly a judge. Ballots can be challenged over such concerns as place of voter residency.
In the event that the number of challenged ballots is less than the margin between the two candidates after all the other votes are counted, the validity of the challenged ballots doesn’t have to be resolved.
Also in play are at least 42 affidavit ballots that were cast the day of the election, but have not been approved yet. These are votes cast by people who maintained they had a right to vote, even though there wasn’t a record of them being eligible where they attempted to vote on Election Day. It is then up to the local boards to determine the eligibility of each voter who cast an affidavit ballot.
There were 24 affidavit ballots cast in Saratoga County, two in Washington County and 16 in Rensselaer County. There were none uncovered in Columbia County as of Tuesday.
Regardless of how the recount goes, both candidates have secured a place on the general election ballot, with Marchione as the Conservative candidate and McDonald as the Independence candidate. Both candidates have said they’re committed to the general election, even if they’re not the Republican nominee.
The Democratic candidate is Robin Andrews, a town supervisor in Columbia County.
The only other decision in court on Tuesday was the status of Judge Robert Chauvin, who recused himself at the request of the McDonald campaign. Chauvin, who served as town attorney for Halfmoon while Marchione was a town official, stressed that he had a good relationship with McDonald and Marchione and that he could be fair to both sides. His decision to recuse himself was based on a desire to avoid the public perception of bias.
Cuevas said he hopes that a new judge is found soon, although Chauvin said it was likely they would have to search outside the county because both candidates have such strong ties in the area. Buley declined to comment on the recusal.