NPR logo The Counting In NY 23 Is (Gasp!) Not Over; Could Hoffman Win?

The Counting In NY 23 Is (Gasp!) Not Over; Could Hoffman Win?

You all remember Bill Owens, right? He's that independent guy from upstate New York who got elected as a Democrat last week in the much-watched open congressional seat in the 23rd District.

That was the election in which conservatives openly revolted against the pro-choice/pro-gay marriage Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, which led to her withdrawing from the race in the final days of the campaign and endorsing Owens, instead of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. On election night, NY 23 went for Owens over Hoffman by just 5,335 votes, the first time a Republican lost the seat in more than a century. With 93 percent of the vote counted, Hoffman conceded, and Owens was quickly sworn in, on Friday — just in time to cast a what-turned-out-to-be-a-much-needed-vote for the Democrats' health-care bill on Saturday night.

Now we learn that the vote count in NY 23 is not over. And not only that, the state has yet to certify the election.

The Syracuse Post-Standard's Mark Weiner reports that a recanvassing of the votes in the 11-county district shows Owens' lead down to 3,026 votes — 66,698 to 63,672.

And that's not all. There are still absentee ballots to be counted. John Conklin, the communications director for the New York State Board of Elections says that 10,200 were distributed prior to the election, which includes military and overseas ballots.

Conklin sent a letter to the House Clerk last week, stating that there was no certified winner. But because Owens still had a lead and Hoffman was not challenging the results, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went ahead and had Owens sworn in. (Another special election winner from last week, California Democrat John Garamendi, was also sworn in in advance of the health-care vote.)

And while there's no way of knowing whether the absentee ballots could reverse the result, there is nonetheless that possibility ... as Conklin told the Post-Standard:

We sent a letter to the clerk laying out the totals. The key is that Hoffman conceded, which means the race is not contested. However, all ballots will be counted, and if the result changes, Owens will have to be removed.

For his part, Hoffman now must be wondering if he conceded too soon. Part of the problem was "the unexpected — and erroneous — close vote in Oswego County [Hoffman's stronghold], where polls had Hoffman with a double digit percentage point lead heading into Election Day."

Oswego County elections officials blame the mistakes on "chaos" in their call-in center that included a phone system foul-up and inspectors who read numbers incorrectly when phoning in results. Of 245 races in the county — not including the congressional and court races — 84 had incorrect totals reported election night.

In the congressional race, more votes were cast in Oswego County than any other in the 11-county district.

The district's second biggest voter turnout was in Jefferson County, where Hoffman also has benefited from a turnaround since election night, gaining about 700 votes. Owens led Hoffman by 300 votes on the final election night tally. But after recanvassing, Hoffman now leads by 424 votes, 10,884 to 10,460.

Rob Ryan, the Hoffman campaign spokesman, "said the absentee ballots are likely to favor Hoffman because most were likely mailed before" Scozzafava suspended her campaign:

"For Doug to win, we needed a three-way race," Ryan said, adding that the campaign's internal polls showed Hoffman would win with all three candidates.

"Given the majority of these ballots are from a three-way race, we think the ballots are going to break Doug's way," Ryan said.

Comments on the Post-Standard's blog were mixed. "kidscience" wrote:

Funny, Funny, Funny stuff. Charge all involved with treason, even the President and vice President.

Which prompted this response from "magus12":

Snort. Treason? Thanks for the laugh. How about 2000 when Bush was appointed by the reactionary U.S. Supreme Court after brother Jeb scrubbed the Florida voter rolls of people who were never felons? Or the 2004 election he stole thanks to Karl Rove and the Ohio Secretary of State who arranged that entire precincts that go Democratic were left without voting machines or machines that "mysteriously" converted Kerry votes to Bush?

And what if in the end Hoffman is declared the winner? Does that negate Owens' vote for the health-care bill? No. He was duly and legally sworn in.

Wow.

UPDATE: I'm wracking my brain, trying to remember if a recount ever unseated a sitting member of Congress, and I can't. When Bill Delahunt first ran for Congress in Massachusetts' 10th District, in 1996, it was determined that he had lost the Democratic primary by fewer than 300 votes. A week of recounts changed nothing. But Delahunt went to court, claiming that ballots that should have been his were mistakenly counted as blank. A state Superior Court judge agreed and declared Delahunt the winner. It was a process that took more than a month. But it did not involve the unseating of a member of Congress.

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