The race in the 46th Senate District — still too close to call — is heading back to court and maybe to a protracted legal battle.
Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk currently trails Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, by 112 votes in the district. The race was practically neck-and-neck after Election Day, but the week of counting absentee and affidavit ballots has grown and shrunk the margin.
After counting paper ballots in Albany, Schenectady, Greene and Montgomery counties last week, Amedore moved ahead by about 920 votes. On Monday and Tuesday, Tkaczyk came storming back with the help of paper ballots from Ulster County, which she won easily in the initial balloting.
In total, more than 9,000 paper ballots have been counted, in addition to more than 116,000 votes cast on Election Day. The race now hinges on fewer than 1,000 paper ballots that have been laid aside as the result of legal objections from lawyers for the candidates.
The two sides are scheduled to appear in court on Thursday before acting Montgomery County Supreme Court Judge Guy Tomlinson, who will determine how to proceed with the disputed ballots. It’s not clear how Tomlinson will resolve these contested votes, although his previous orders have been designed to get a result as fast as possible. If each disputed ballot receives a hearing the process could drag on for weeks.
The longer this race remains without a winner, the longer the state Senate will remain without a clear majority for 2013. As of now 31 senators have pledged to conference with the Republicans and the Democratic conference has 31 senators, if it retains its four independent members. Whoever wins this district, which was newly created this year to be the 63rd seat, would likely emerge with control of the chamber.
Both sides are confident they’ll emerge victorious after the contested ballots are reviewed.
This tight outcome was not expected this spring when the Senate Republicans drew this district for Amedore to step right into, but a late infusion of cash for Tkaczyk and President Barack Obama on the ticket has made things close.
It’s almost impossible to gauge how many of the contested ballots will be deemed valid by Tomlinson, as lawyers for both sides maintain their objections were on ballots that should not be counted. These ballots are usually invalidated on legal technicalities, like a husband and wife signing each other’s absentee ballot envelopes, past and present voter signatures not matching up or a voter’s status as an absentee voter being called into question.
Traditionally when counting paper ballots, lawyers are more likely to object to voters they think are inclined to vote for the other candidate, based on demographics, party affiliation or geography.
In Ulster County, which Tkaczyk won on Election Day with 61 percent of the vote, objected ballots from Amedore’s attorneys represented more than 85 percent of the ballots laid aside. In the town of Woodstock, which was counted last on Tuesday and was won with 83 percent of the vote on Election Day by Tkaczyk, Amedore’s attorneys accounted for 89 of the 97 objections.
A majority of the total ballots laid aside in the district come from Ulster County and a vast majority of the ballots have been laid aside at the behest of Amedore’s attorneys.
Early on Tuesday, Amedore attorney John Ciampoli was called out by Tkaczyk attorney Joshua Ehrlich for objecting only to Democratic poll inspectors who cast absentee ballots too early, while not objecting to Republican poll inspectors who did the same thing.
“I wasn’t even looking at [the Republican inspector ballots],” responded Ciampoli. “I figured that was your job.”
As the day went on, lawyers for Tkaczyk began objecting to Republican poll inspectors guilty of the same infraction, even though they believe all these objections will be overruled by the judge and the votes will ultimately be counted.
Amedore spokesman Kris Thompson stressed that all the objections made by their legal team stemmed from case law. As a result, he expected their objections to all be validated and the questionable votes not counted.
Regarding the poll inspector vote objections in Ulster County, Thompson wasn’t familiar with those specific instances, but said the lawyers must have seen legal grounds.
Additional analysis on this race can be found on the Capital Region Scene.