Post-election ballot count, audit to begin

Voting machines are organized by the Nassau County

Voting machines are organized by the Nassau County Board of Elections in Mineola. (Nov. 9, 2011) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Suffolk election officials this week will begin the process of confirming the winners in three tightly contested legislative races, but in Nassau determination of the final margin in the legislature could be some time off.

In Suffolk, where Democrats and minor-party allies currently have a 12-6 majority, unofficial returns from Election Day are in dispute in three districts. Suffolk Monday will begin auditing 3 percent of all voting machines to match electronic tallies to the paper ballots that voters fill out. The count of absentee ballots is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

In Nassau, where Republicans on the legislature outnumber Democrats 10-8, unofficial results are contested in three districts also. County election officials had been planning to begin counting absentee ballots on Wednesday, but the review could be delayed because of a dispute between Democratic and Republican election officials.

William Biamonte, Nassau's Democratic Elections commissioner, said he shut down the recount Friday because Republicans refused to allow him to make copies of the election district ledgers that voters sign before marking their ballots.

"We have to ensure that we have the right number of people signed in for the ballots counted," Biamonte said. Without reconciling the numbers, "we can't go any further."

Republican Elections Commissioner Louis Savinetti said he was concerned about the legality of making copies. "As far as I can determine, that's never been done before," Savinetti said. "I want to make sure it's legitimate." He asked for board attorneys to review the issue.

When asked why he needs the copies, Biamonte called it "part of the process. The question is why do they think I'm not entitled to them?"

The back and forth over the sign-in books illustrates the jockeying that can occur as recounts progress in close races.

Both sides can battle over absentee ballots. Those that were postmarked by Nov. 7 can be accepted through Tuesday in both counties. Before they can be counted, officials must make sure the voters did not also go to the polls. Affidavit ballots are completed when voters show up at the polls but their names are not listed in the sign-in books. Election officials must determine whether the voter is registered before counting affidavit ballots.

If lawyers for either side challenge the absentee or affidavit ballots, a judge decides whether to count them. In Nassau, Chief Administrative Judge Anthony Marano is handling the case, according to an order he signed last week.

Both counties audit 3 percent of their computerized voting machines. If significant discrepancies occur, the audit is expanded. Nassau will start its audit when it begins its paper ballot count, Biamonte said.

In Nassau, unofficial returns showed a difference of fewer than 100 votes in two races: Republican Legs. Joseph Belesi led Democrat Eva Pearson by 51 votes in the 14th District while Republican Robert Germino Jr. led Democrat Delia DeRiggi-Whitton by 37 votes in the 18th. Incumbent Democrat Diane Yatauro did not run again.

In the 3rd District, Legis. John Ciotti requested a recount, though Democrat CarriƩ Solages leads by 431 votes. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that Ciotti is unlikely to make up the difference unless there was a voting machine breakdown.

Nassau election officials also plan to review results in several Glen Cove city elections.

In Suffolk, Democrats lead in three close legislative races -- in the 7th District, where Democrat Rob Calarco leads Republican John Giannott; the 18th, with Democrat William Spencer leading Republican Elizabeth Black; and the 6th, where freshman Democratic Legis. Sarah Anker leads Republican Karen Wilutis.

If those districts go to Republicans, the legislature would have a 9-9 split. Lawmakers would have two weeks to elect a presiding officer, and if neither side has a majority for a new leader, Republican County Clerk Judith Pascale would break the tie. The presiding officer assigns committee chairmen and oversees the hiring of legislative personnel.

Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan, a Democrat, also has not conceded to Republican Tom Croci.

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