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New York's top judge sets deadlines for state contested races

Jack Martins and Craig Johnson.

Jack Martins and Craig Johnson. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein (left); handout

While the state's top judge moved Thursday to expedite the appeals on three closely contested State Senate races, Republican Jack Martins held a 403-vote lead over state Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) with all undisputed ballots counted.

With 879 contested absentee ballots awaiting a judge's review, Johnson would need to win about 75 percent of them to overtake Martins, the mayor of Mineola.

Meanwhile, in Yaphank, the gap between Republican Randy Altschuler and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) shrank for a third consecutive day. In the 1st Congressional race, Democratic officials said Altschuler now holds a 90-vote lead with one-third of the absentee ballots counted. Election officials said they would not comment until the tabulations are finished.

Earlier Thursday, Judge Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of the state Court of Appeals, issued a set of deadlines meant to quickly move appeals on the Senate races through three lower courts, two appellate courts and the Court of Appeals for review by Dec. 20.

Lawyers involved in the case said the goal was to wrap up contested State Senate races before the upper house of the State Legislature reconvenes Jan. 5 so that whichever party prevailed had enough votes to form a majority.

Control of the Senate will depend on the outcome of three close races: Martins-Johnson, one in Westchester and one abutting Lake Erie that stretches from Erie County and part of Buffalo north into Niagara County and Niagara Falls.

Lippman said in his order that the three trial level courts in those counties should complete their hearings and rulings by Dec. 6, "absent extraordinary and unavoidable circumstances" - a phrase he did not explain.

The order said the two appellate divisions handling the cases - the Second and the Fourth departments - should finish work by Dec. 8, "but in any event, no later than December 15." The Court of Appeals would hear all cases by Dec. 20, but the order gave no timetable for it to rule.

Lippman said the order was being issued because of "the importance of the timely hearing and resolution of" disputes in the three races.

Meanwhile, in Mineola, attorneys for the Democratic and Republican elections commissioners said they would attempt in the next two days to resolve their differences over some of the contested ballots in the Johnson-Martins race and present a more manageable number for possible judicial review next week.

In Suffolk, Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider said Altschuler's attorneys challenged 168 more ballots than the Democrats' attorneys. Schneider predicted Bishop, who trailed by 383 votes after the machine count, would gain 100 votes once challenged ballots are counted.

"We're making up a hell of a lot of ground," Schneider said.

Altschuler spokesman Rob Ryan accused the Bishop campaign of trying to "say or do anything to muddy the waters." Ryan declined to explain why the campaign is challenging more votes than Bishop's campaign.

With Sid Cassese and Mitchell Freedman

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