A clear winner is likely weeks away for the new Capital Region state Senate seat.
After all the machine votes were tallied on Election Day, Duanesburg Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk has a 139-vote lead over Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, in the 46th District, which stretches from Montgomery County down to Ulster County. There were just more than 116,000 votes cast, with the election now hinging on about 10,000 absentee votes and an unknown number of affidavit ballots.
Both sides are heading to state Supreme Court in Montgomery County on Friday to determine how the votes will be counted.
Amedore campaign spokesman Kris Thompson said in a statement: “We must institute safeguards to protect every vote in this process.” This is common in any closely contested race where absentee and affidavit ballots or potentially a recount are needed to decide a winner.
The lawyers for the Amedore campaign include Michael Cuevas and James Walsh, two familiar faces in recent Capital Region contests. The Tkaczyk campaign declined to identify its attorney. The first hearing will be before Judge Guy P. Tomlinson.
Both sides expressed confidence and touted their efforts at getting out the absentee vote in the district. It’s not clear whether Tkaczyk’s late surge in the race will affect the absentee vote.
Tkaczyk campaign spokesman Gary Ginsburg added that in most long counts, it is the leader on election night who ends up holding on to victory.
“Nine times out of 10,” he said this happens.
What’s not clear is how long this process will take, with Ginsburg suggesting it could take a few weeks. A few political observers said it is possible the winner might not be decided until the next legislative session starts in 2013.
A recent absentee ballot count for the Republican primary in the 43rd Senate District took about two weeks but only involved about 10 percent of the votes and the stakes weren’t as high.
A major unknown at this point is the number of affidavit ballots cast. There could be a lot from University of Albany students and Ulster County could have a large number, according to Democratic Ulster County Board of Elections Commissioner Victor Work.
“We know there are a lot of them,” Work said.
Affidavits are paper ballots counted after Election Day and cast by voters who weren't allowed to vote at the polls when they showed up, mostly because of problems with their registration.
This neck-and-neck outcome was not what political observers expected when Senate Republicans carved out this district to serve as the body’s 63rd seat. The district includes much of Amedore’s current Assembly district, and despite its slim Democratic enrollment advantage was considered a safe seat for Republicans.
In large part the smooth victory for Amedore, who enjoyed a large fundraising advantage, was interrupted when Tkaczyk got her own financial backing from two outside advocacy groups that combined for about $500,000 worth of ads. These groups were focused on campaign finance reform and argued that Tkaczyk was the right candidate to help implement a publicly financed election system.
This effort was partially spearheaded by the group Friends of Democracy, which was co-founded by Jonathan Soros. He described Tkaczyk’s narrow lead as a clear victory for reform, as campaign finance reform became a major issue in the close of the race.
“It clearly helped move a race that Republicans weren’t terribly worried about,” he said, explaining that this race was targeted because of the contrast in candidates and its potential competitiveness.
“If you’re anybody focused on politics,” Soros said, “the clear message to take away is that voters in this state are hungry for change in Albany.”
The early results on Election Night broke for Amedore, with Schenectady and Greene counties putting him up early. That early lead prompted him to declare victory at the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia. Thompson said that is what they expected would happen and what the campaign still believes will be the final result.
On Election Day, the big counties for Tkaczyk were Ulster and Albany. Ulster County was particularly good, as she garnered 22,800 votes to Amedore’s 14,601. Amedore’s strongest performance was in Montgomery County, where he almost doubled Tkaczyk, 10,178 votes to 5,842.
The origins of the absentee ballots favor Tkaczyk, as more than half are from Ulster and Albany counties. Additionally, the party affiliation of the returned absentee ballots benefits her, with 3,325 absentee ballots returned by Democrats and 3,100 returned by Republicans.
A more comprehensive breakdown of the absentee votes is available on the Capital Region Scene.