Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Review of Rejected Ballots in Padavan vs. Gennaro by Victor Mimoni - The Queens Courier

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More than a month after Election Day, the 11th Senate District race between 18-term incumbent Republican Frank Padavan and his Democratic challenger, City Councilmember James Gennaro, is still undecided.

On Tuesday, December 2, Queens County Judge Kevin Kerrigan ordered Board of Elections (BOE) officials to allow a “re-canvass” of roughly 1,700 paper ballots which had been ruled invalid by a bipartisan panel of BOE personnel.

From a reported lead of 723 on Election Night, a recount of impounded voting machines reduced Padavan’s edge to 502 the following week. A hand count of emergency paper ballots - cast by undisputed voters because of machine breakdowns - reduced the margin to only 474.

The count of valid paper ballots was finally completed late in the evening on Monday, December 1, and showed Padavan with a 580 vote lead - with 252 disputed ballots, which would have to be evaluated by the judge before being counted.

“It wasn’t all that surprising,” said a Republican BOE employee. “Recounts almost always refine rather than reverse the initial result.”

Early Tuesday morning, Padavan was cautiously optimistic. “We’re pleased the counting has been completed,” but anticipating the hearing, he told The Courier, “We’re not sure what kind of action they will take.”

Democrats, including Gennaro consultant Evan Stavisky, have suggested for weeks that “there may be hundreds of valid votes” in the reject pile.

Padavan rejected the assertion. “BOE officials apply the law when rejecting ballots. If people aren’t registered, or live in other parts of the state, they can’t vote in the district,” he said.

Neither the rejected nor the disputed ballots have actually been seen. Paper ballots are kept in their envelopes and marked with coded voter information until they pass muster of the BOE and representatives from both sides.

Copies of each of the roughly 8,000 paper ballot envelopes were made as soon as the machine count was completed. According to a highly-placed Republican source, “The BOE distributed the copies to both sides on Tuesday - even before they officially received the judge’s writ.”

At least one BOE employee admitted that there has been “a glitch” - where valid ballots were discovered in the rejected pile - in the past.

Republican sources are privately scoffing at the Democrat’s “last-ditch” claims. “If there was a 20 percent error rate by the BOE - which is unheard of - and every single one of the recovered and disputed ballot went for Gennaro, they still wouldn’t have enough,” one source said.

“They’re trying to keep this going as long as they can,” the source surmised.

It was suggested that the opposing camps would spend Wednesday and perhaps Thursday reviewing the photocopies before returning to the BOE table to conduct the court-ordered re-canvass.

Given the pace of counting thus far, and the prospect of the court having to review even more disputed ballots, the election may not be decided for weeks.

“The election isn’t over until the Board certifies the result,” Padavan said.