Workers at the Suffolk County Board of Elections recount ballots...

Workers at the Suffolk County Board of Elections recount ballots in Yaphank. (Nov. 8, 2010) Credit: Ed Betz

Republicans have rebuffed a judicial request to consent to a hand count of more than 80,000 machine ballots in the tightly contested State Senate race in Nassau County, legal and political sources and one of the attorneys said late Monday.

The request by Justice Ira Warshawsky was made in an off-the-record session in the judge's chambers in state Supreme Court in Mineola, the sources said, asking that they not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the case.

However, attorney Steven Schlesinger, representing Democratic incumbent Craig Johnson, was in the private session and confirmed that the judge had asked the parties to consent to the hand count. Schlesinger contends that problems with the new optical scan voting machines were severe enough to warrant a hand count that would reveal enough missed votes to put his candidate over the top.

The judge said through a court spokesman that he was prohibited from commenting on any aspect of the case before him, including the off-the-record session. The judge has so far declined to order a hand count, but Schlesinger was expected to renew his request for one after the Board of Elections reports the findings of its audit to the judge on Thursday.

After the private session, the judge in open court told John Ryan, the attorney for the Republican elections commissioner, to report back to him on "the matter" they had discussed. Ryan said later that he had complied with the judge's request, but declined to comment.

Johnson trailed Republican challenger Jack Martins by 431 votes late Monday in the 7th Senate District as a court-appointed referee continued to work on more than 100 paper ballots remaining to be counted, out of more than 3,000 absentee and affidavit ballots that were cast in the race.

Schlesinger told Warshawsky in open court Monday that problems had been detected with several of the new voting machines, but Republican attorneys said all the problems should be explained by the time they report to him Thursday on the results of the state-mandated audit of 32 of the 1,071 machines.

Meanwhile in Suffolk, attorneys for Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and his Republican challenger, Randy Altschuler, are expected to begin the task of arguing over whether to allow the more than 2,000 still-unopened absentee ballots the campaigns challenged in the past two weeks. Bishop leads Altschuler by more than 230 votes.

The campaigns will meet at the Board of Elections in Yaphank at 9 a.m. Tuesday, officials said, and will likely agree to allow some of the challenged ballots before they are scheduled to appear before State Supreme Court Judge Peter Mayer later in the day, Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider said. The Suffolk board is expected to begin opening and counting the 71 ballots received from overseas military personnel.

With Reid J. Epstein

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