The outcome of a Schenectady County Family Court judge’s bid to become a state Supreme Court justice likely won’t be known for at least a couple weeks as absentee ballots now hold the key to the results.
With all districts in the 11-county 4th Judicial District reporting by early Wednesday morning, Schenectady County Family Court Judge Mark Powers led his rival from Clinton County Timothy Lawliss by about 1,400 votes — 0.4 percent — out of more than 300,000 cast, according to unofficial results.
Powers’ current lead is far outpaced by the number of absentee ballots to be counted. A Daily Gazette canvass of the 11 county boards of election tallied more than 27,000 absentee ballots waiting to be opened. Affidavit ballots will likely add to that total. Election officials are expected to start opening the absentees next week.
A Supreme Court race four years ago remained deadlocked into mid-December and resulted in a 70-vote margin of victory for the winner.
Powers, who made his fourth bid to become a Supreme Court justice, said he’s surprised by the close results. He expected it to be decisive either in his favor or not. He is a Democrat and Conservative.
“All I can say is that I’m cautiously optimistic,” Powers said. “I can’t really say anything more in a race like this. It’s just surprising to me that with the number of votes cast that it would come this close.”
Lawliss, a Republican currently serving as Family Court judge in Clinton County, said he’s anxious to see the absentees counted.
He noted that he won in 8 of the 11 counties, losing Schenectady, Saratoga and St. Lawrence.
“I don’t know if its more Democrats or more Republicans,” Lawliss said of the outstanding absentees. “All I know is there’s a lot of them.”
Powers now sits with 160,479 votes, 44.91 percent, to Lawliss’ 159,064, 44.51 percent. In a turnout fueled by the presidential race, another 37,588 voters, just over 10 percent, made no choice for Supreme Court.
In addition to Schenectady and Montgomery counties, the 4th Judicial District covers Saratoga and Fulton counties and several others located between Schenectady and the Canadian border. It is an area that is home to an estimated 840,000 people.
The Supreme Court seat was vacated when Justice John A. Lahtinen, who served on the Appellate Division, retired.
Lawliss has served as Family Court Judge from Clinton County for nearly 18 years. Powers has served as Family Court judge from Schenectady County for nearly 15 years.
Whoever wins, the governor will have the opportunity to appoint a replacement and the vacated county judgeship will be on the county’s ballot next November.
In the disputed 2012 race, Montgomery County Court Judge Felix Catina lost to Franklin County Court magistrate John Ellis by 70 votes after a final 100 disputed ballots tied up in disputes from other races were opened six weeks after election day.
Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, firstname.lastname@example.org or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.