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Keeping up the momentum

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) on Jan.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) on Jan. 9, 2019 in Albany. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Daily Point

A change in fortunes

State Senate Democrats took a victory dance Monday afternoon to proclaim that they won a supermajority of 42 seats, turning back an aggressive GOP law-and-order campaign. "We would not be standing here today without the guidance of my great deputy and chair of the DSCC, Senator Mike Gianaris," said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

That outcome didn’t look so possible after Election Day when the incumbents and challengers alike seemed buried by GOP votes. State Republican chairman Nick Langworthy quickly proclaimed that their focus on "defunding the police" and opaque and hasty changes to bail and other criminal justice laws had stopped the Democrats from expanding their majority. It was a sentiment shared by some Democratic leaders and stunned candidates themselves, although the Senate leadership correctly predicted that those claims of defeat were premature.

Soon after, The Point did a list of winners that included the state GOP chair, law enforcement unions and billionaire Ron Lauder, who funded a PAC targeting Democratic incumbents. Among the losers we listed were NYS and Nassau County Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs, Gianaris and the Parkside Group, the polling and consulting firm for the party’s Senate campaign committee. While the final tally isn’t complete in a handful of races, Democrats clearly came out on the victorious side, so it’s time to flip the outcomes.

"The Republicans were quick to declare victory on Election Night. But they counted their chickens too soon. We always knew that those uncounted absentee ballots would come home to roost," Jacobs told The Point Monday.

Langworthy, who strutted immediately after Election Day, hasn’t said much since the absentee count started.

But the feud between both sides is unlikely to end. Last week, Gianaris and the Police Benevolent Association sparred on Twitter, with the NYC PBA asking "how much did you spend per vote" (it was a lot) and Gianaris retorting, "You should really do a better job of minding your members’ money."

What turned the count around for the Democrats was the enormous number of voters who wanted to participate in the election and who also chose to mail in their ballots.

"There were three markedly different patterns of voting," said one Democratic analyst who said that while early voting and same-day voting split overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump, absentees (which formed the bulk of what is known as "the paper") split dramatically the other way. In-person Election Day tallies were 60-38 in favor of Trump, while "the paper" vote was 73-26 in favor of Democrat Joe Biden.

This is a departure from the usual rule of thumb on absentees: The major parties win the votes of their members, then the "the paper follows the machine" when trying to determine which way the swing votes actually swung. In normal times that would have meant those uncounted ballots for independent voters would have gone to Trump. As with everything else upside down about the 2020 election, however, when the counting of the paper ballots started a week or more after the election, there was a big surprise. Not only did they not favor Republicans, the swing voters went overwhelmingly 3 to 1 for the Democratic candidates. Some election observers say independents who chose to vote by mail for fear of COVID-19 were more likely to be upset with Trump and the GOP for the spread of the virus.

That helped Kevin Thomas in the 6th SD and Jim Gaughran in the 5th SD overcome their Election Day deficits along with other Democrats throughout the state. However, in Suffolk County where there are more registered Republicans and two brutal congressional races taking place, that may not be enough. Democratic incumbent Monica Martinez is unlikely to pull ahead of Republican Alexis Weik in the 3rd SD. Counting is to resume in Suffolk Tuesday. While Democrat Laura Ahearn in the 1st SD made up some ground last week, she still has a tough road against GOP candidate Anthony Palumbo to win the seat vacated by Republican Ken LaValle.

—Rita Ciolli @ritaciolli

Talking Point

Getting back to business

Here’s how the Suffolk County Board of Elections plans to get back to its absentee ballot count after an election worker tested positive for COVID-19 this weekend:

  • A cleaning crew using specialized COVID-19 materials spent several hours Sunday cleaning the BOE’s employee and common spaces, according to Republican elections commissioner Nick LaLota.
  • BOE employees must take and pass a COVID test on or after Monday in order to be admitted back to work, LaLota said. An employee who fails the test will be required to quarantine.
  • Nurses from the county Department of Health were set to be on site at the BOE Monday to help with testing, LaLota said.
  • Counting resumes Tuesday.

The local precautions come as Onondaga County in central New York struggles with multiple positive cases in the county’s own BOE, leading to further delays in counting.

"We want to avoid an Onondaga-like situation with a large infection rate and closing with much absentee counting to be done and certification still pending," said LaLota.

Meanwhile in Nassau, Democratic elections commissioner Jim Scheuerman had no positive cases to report.

"We had an employee self-quarantine here and there but no positive tests," he said.

Nassau finished its count Friday morning, Scheuerman said, and the board is working on its machine audit.

"My goal is to certify the election tomorrow, Wednesday the latest," Scheuerman said Monday morning.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

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Quick Points

  • New research has found that the worst surges of COVID-19 are occurring in states with the least restrictive containment policies, like on masks. We have had similar problems in New York in communities that disregard mask and distancing mandates. All of which is proof of the principle known as Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is usually the right one.
  • The number of Americans willing to take a coronavirus vaccine increased from 50% in September to 58% in late October – and that was before Moderna and Pfizer announced their vaccines were about 95% effective. Perhaps skepticism, like trust, can be transitory.
  • Republican officials in some states say the Trump campaign’s effort to change election results was poorly organized effort, with one Trump adviser in Pennsylvania saying, "You have to stop fraud as it happens, not after the fact." Perhaps the problem is that the fraud just wasn’t there to detect.
  • Before leaving the White House, President Donald Trump is planning a full slate of holiday parties, indoors, without apparent mention of health protocols so far, in defiance of CDC guidelines. After he hosted two super-spreader events already, this will come as a surprise to exactly no one.
  • President Donald Trump’s post-election attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis have distanced themselves from controversial colleague Sidney Powell because, as one Trump campaign official put it, "She was too crazy even for the president." Which seems to imply that Rudy is not?
  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had a tough fight with COVID-19, called the conduct of President Donald Trump’s post-election legal team "a national embarrassment." You’re not going to get a much better definition of "burning bridges" than that.
  • When Vanderbilt University researchers began the work that led to the Moderna coronavirus vaccine, singer Dolly Parton gave $1 million to jump-start the effort. In Dollywood or anywhere, from 9 to 5 or anytime, that’s a job well done.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie