Keep waiting, Long Island
Absentee ballots are being counted in states across the country as the presidential count draws to a close — yet Long Islanders still have to wait.
The Nassau County Board of Elections is expected to start counting absentees on Nov. 10, according to Democratic commissioner Jim Scheuerman. In Suffolk, that date is Nov. 16, says Democratic commissioner Anita Katz.
There are a few factors leading to the delay. First, state law requires a statewide comparison of all affidavit and absentee ballot requests among counties to ensure no one has attempted to vote more than once in multiple counties. That is expected to be conducted by the state Board of Elections on Friday, says state board spokesman John Conklin.
Conklin says the counties are allowed to begin counting absentees themselves any time after that, but there are a few more barriers.
One is that absentee votes have to be checked against in-person votes. If someone voted absentee and then voted again in-person — which is perfectly legal in New York — the absentee has to be pulled out and destroyed, says Bonnie Garone, counsel to the Nassau Democratic commissioner.
There is also the wait for voting machines to be returned. The machines shouldn’t have ballots in them now, but they are checked anyway.
For affidavit ballots, which will be counted along with absentees, officials need to determine whether the person is a qualified voter.
And there is some calendar organizing to be done with the parties. The county boards have to send a notice to local candidates and party leaders "designating a specific date when they will begin so they can observe and make objections," says Conklin.
The preparatory work is being done ahead of the count, even as additional absentee ballots can still arrive up until Nov. 10, and military and overseas ballots are accepted through the Nov. 16.
With the amount of work to be done, Scheuerman wanted Nassau BOE staff to work through the weekend, but Republicans disagreed, according to Garone. John Ryan, counsel to the Nassau Republican commissioner, disputed this.
"I don’t think that decision has been made," Ryan said.
Either way, the wait on LI continues.
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
Next up: the lawyers
By title, John Ciampoli is the counsel to the New York State Republican Senate Campaign Committee. In reality Ciampoli is more, a driving force in New York in most Republican election challenges and redistricting efforts.
And he’s facing a challenge unlike any he’s ever confronted in a 35-year law career often focused on the mechanics of partisan politics.
"I have more blips on my radar screen than ever before in my life," Ciampoli told The Point Thursday, as he took a break from putting together legal teams in (so far) about 14 State Senate districts. And he has a hand in potential challenges to State Assembly and congressional races that are still up in the air.
"What’s different this time is the weight of the paper," Ciampoli said. "This is just an extraordinary level of absentee votes mailed in or hand-delivered across the state, like nothing we’ve ever seen, because Gov. Andrew Cuomo basically made us a vote-by-mail state," he said.
And it’s such ballots, with their Byzantine envelope-sealing rules and signature requirements and other complications, that provide the bulk of most counting challenges upon which tight races can hang.
As of Tuesday, 1.4 million had been returned statewide, with next Tuesday the deadline for receiving most. By Election Day, Suffolk had received 210,265 mail ballots and Nassau had received 197,171. The huge bump was due to COVID-19, with no-excuse absentee ballots allowed for the first time and many voters hoping to avoid crowds, lines and infections.
Ciampoli was approached for the roving attorney teams that will descend on hot spots to fight for President Donald Trump but said the challenges in New York are more than enough to keep him busy, and he’s not going anywhere, though he does dispense a lot of advice by phone.
The unexpectedly strong showing by Republicans has created more contentious races than expected, and raised the stakes on the outcomes.
"Whether the Democrats in the Senate get a supermajority really matters," Ciampoli said, pointing to both the rules of decennial redistricting Democrats have angled to change and the districts an all-powerful party could impose to essentially empower it in perpetuity.
Numerous congressional and Assembly races are similarly close, and in many instances one ballot could have a role in as many as three contested races. For example, ballots cast in the congressional race between Democratic incumbent Thomas Suozzi and Republican George Santos may also contain votes in the extremely tight 5th Senate District race between Democratic incumbent James Gaughran and Republican Edmund Smyth, and also in the battle for the open 12th Assembly district between Democrat Michael Marcantonio and Republican Keith Brown.
And there is a deadline, which has not been changed even as the mountain of paper gets higher. County boards are required to send their results to the state Board of Elections by Nov. 28; the state board must certify results by Dec. 8.
And, Ciampoli says, it’s not just the number of absentee ballots creating confusion.
"We’ve had more than 30 different directives from the state BOE to county boards this year on various election issues, and I’ve lost count of the executive orders on voting," Ciampoli said. "It’s going to be an unprecedented election for us, in every way."
—Lane Filler @lanefiller
Kicking and screaming
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Vax opponents claim election wins
Among the issues raised that have put some Democrats — including several on Long Island — in danger of losing their State Senate and Assembly seats: Vaccination.
Those who oppose vaccines, or the requirements that schoolchildren must be vaccinated, had spent the election season fighting for candidates who support the concept of "my body, my choice," while battling the incumbents who voted for the 2019 state law that removed the religious exemptions for mandatory vaccines.
The conflict is between those who note that the science on vaccines is irrefutable and the importance of public health paramount and the groups, mostly of parents, who oppose all vaccinations or say the mandates are a violation of individual freedom.
—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall