Friday, November 14, 2008

Doin' The Hand Count Jive by Elizabeth Benjamin - The Daily Politics - NY Daily News

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The machine recanvass begins tomorrow morning in the surprisingly close 11th SD race, where 723 votes separated Sen. Frank Padavan and Councilman Jim Gennaro as of election night - a margin both sides are disputing as either too large or too small, depending on which side of the fence you're on.

The Democrats say the number of votes separating Padavan and Gennaro could be as small as 100, while the Republicans insist their name is up by at least 1,000.

There's a lot of spinning going on by both sides. We should know the truth soon.

The opening of paper ballots is scheduled to begin Thursday and could continue through the weekend, according to Queens Democratic Party Executive Secretary Mike Reich, who is helping to oversee the recount operation for Team Gennaro.

The last time a Senate race was this hotly contested was in 2004 when Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins was making her first attempt at unseating then-Sen. Nick Spano in the 35th SD.

That contest didn't get settled until three months after Election Day and well into the legislative session, which life tricky for Spano. He ultimately prevailed by just 18 votes, only to lose to Stewart-Cousins, who got a big lift from then-wildly popular gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer, the second time around in 2006.

While Reich isn't expecting to see an outcome in the 11th SD until Monday at the earliest, he also doesn't think the race will drag on into Spano-Stewart-Cousins territory, in part because the lawsuits in that contest helped settled matters like when certain paper ballots are valid and countable.

For example, the Court of Appeals ruled on the so-called "right church, wrong pew" question, and , as I understand it, determined your paper ballot should be counted even if you showed up at the right polling place but the wrong election district, and thus didn't find your name in the book.

There are roughly 8,000 paper ballots in the 11th SD race. Reich and John Ciampoli, a counsel for the Senate GOP who is handling Padvan's side of things (and also did the 2004 and 2006 Spano recounts) agreed before a judge last week to a hand recount, which means each and every ballot that is determined to be valid will be counted by a real live human being and not just a scanning machine.

That makes for some seriously tedious and time-consuming work, but the stakes here are very high. For example, a wrench could be thrown into the Gang of Three/swing vote game if Gennaro is successful. (Democrats are also hopeful about the Kristen McElroy-Sen. Kemp Hannon recount in the 6th SD, but that race is less close than the 11th SD).

Reich thinks the paper is fairly evenly split between absentee and affidavit ballots, the latter is made up of people who had to vote the really old-fashioned way because their names weren't found in the rolls.

These are the ballots about which the GOP is really nervous, because they were more likelt to be filled out by Obama voters. The affidavit ballots won't count unless those who cast them are registered voters. All emergency ballots, used when machines break down, are automatically counted - most have been tallied already.

Usually, the GOP might have an edge with absentees (they come in two varities: The kind that are go every year to folks who are homebound or in nursing homes, and the kind that are requested).

But Reich said there are more requested absentees than usual, which might indicate college students who don't usually bother did this time around because of Obama.

"I believe the Republicans are going to be very aggressive in counting affidavit ballots, but as long as people continued down the line (to the legislative races), we're going to look very good," Reich said. "I'm very confident we're going to bring Gennaro in."

NOTE: I've fixed the paragraphs about paper ballots after talking again with Reich and Sen. Marty Connor, who is an election attorney, and realizing I got mixed up about what's what. Sorry.