Appeals court backs Martins State Senate win

Mineola Mayor Jack Martins won his hotly-contested race Mineola Mayor Jack Martins won his hotly-contested race against State Sen. Craig Johnson, clinching Republican control of the Senate. (Dec. 4, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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ALBANY - ALBANY - The state's highest court ruled Monday that State Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) is not entitled to a hand recount of ballots cast in the 7th Senate District, making Mineola Mayor Jack Martins the winner by 451 votes.

In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that Martins, a Republican, would win any recount of the 84,000 ballots cast in the Nassau County district.

"There is no substantial likelihood that the result of the election would be altered by the conduct of a full manual audit," the court wrote.

Within 90 minutes of the decision, Johnson issued a statement conceding the election and congratulating Martins. "We fought to make sure every vote counted and to ensure all votes in all future elections across this state are counted," Johnson said.

Martins' victory gives the GOP a 32-30 majority in the State Legislature's upper house, a margin that will allow Republicans a critical voice in next year's decennial redistricting and during at least the first two years of Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo's term.

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In a statement, Martins said, "I'm thrilled to finally be able to begin the work of the 7th District and New York."

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While Johnson said he hoped to set a legal precedent on what triggers a manual recount for future elections, the court's ruling appears to have avoided doing so. The judges, who during the one-hour oral argument Monday peppered attorneys for the campaigns on the question, did not address it in their decision.

Johnson's attorney, Steven Schlesinger, argued that the state should abide by New York City's standard, which calls for a hand recount when elections are decided by one-half of 1 percent.

Martins' attorney, Peter Bee, asked the judges to avoid adopting a standard for future elections. He said cases should be determined "with standards of reasonableness and standards of discretion without outlining a perfect, bright-line rule."

Bee argued that allowing a manual recount merely because the election is close would lead to candidates on the short end of close elections demanding recounts all over the state.

"What happens the next time a gubernatorial election is won narrowly by one candidate or the other?" he asked. "Are we going to count millions of paper ballots by hand?"

The judges concurred with the decision of Nassau State Supreme Court Justice Ira Warshawsky to reject Johnson's recount request and certify Martins as the winner. They concluded that, while there were minor flaws in Nassau's electoral process, none were intentional or significant enough to alter the result.

"There is no evidence that the discrepancies arose from any flagrant irregularity in the election process," the high court wrote.

Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who will become majority leader next month, praised the "reasoned decision."

"Now that Democrats have exhausted all of their legal options, it's time to get back to work," he said.

State Sen. John Sampson, the Democratic conference leader, said, "We are disappointed in the Court of Appeals decision, but proud of our fight to ensure every vote was counted fairly and honestly."

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