ALBANY — The long count of paper ballots in two disputed state Senate races on Long Island prompted each side on Wednesday to accuse the other of trying delay a resolution in order to disrupt the opening days of the Senate when leadership and control is decided.
“The time for politics is over, and the time for governing is upon us,” said Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate’s narrow Republican majority, which has been led by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport).
“It is absurd,” said Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs of the long count of votes in the two disputed races. “There is no reason why this is happening other than the Republicans are stalling.”
The two races too close to call on Election Day are in the 5th Senate District between Republican Sen. Carl Marcellino of Syosset and Democrat James Gaughran of Huntington; and in the 8th District between Democratic challenger John Brooks of Seaford and Republican Sen. Michael Venditto of Oyster Bay.
If the 5th and 8th districts’ races are still undecided by Jan. 4 when the 2017 session opens, neither Democrats nor Republicans would have the 32 votes needed to elect the majority leader and to control the chamber as the majority. Republicans and Democrats would each have 30 votes until those two seats are filled, although Republicans also would have a 31st vote from conservative Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who is aligned with the GOP.
The power in those opening days in January would then shift to the seven-member Independent Democratic Conference to amass 32 votes for any action. The IDC has in past years worked in a coalition of varying forms of power sharing with Republicans. The IDC is expected to again work with the GOP to form a working majority in 2017. However, if the two Senate races aren’t decided, the IDC would have considerably more leverage to shape that coalition.
That would likely deepen a rift within the party between the IDC and the remaining members of the mainline Democratic conference and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, head of the party. The mainline Democrats are pressuring Cuomo to unify Democrats to form a Senate majority in January.
In the 8th District, the count of absentee ballots and paper provisional ballots from Election Day is expected to be done by Monday, a court spokesman said Wednesday. Then state Supreme Court Judge Arthur M. Diamond, a Nassau County Republican, will consider motions from the Brooks and Venditto campaigns, probably beginning on Monday. There is no estimate of how long the court arguments may take.
In the 5th District, Marcellino, the veteran GOP senator, has a more comfortable lead over Gaughran. But Gaughran continues to challenge individual absentee ballots and provisional paper ballots, even though he would have to win 64 percent of the remaining ballots, including many in reliably Republican areas.