BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — An Oswego County Supreme Court justice issued his decision in the legal battle over New York’s 22nd Congressional District on Tuesday.
In his decision, Justice Scott DelConte wrote that the eight county Boards of Elections in the district must now fix their errors and ensure all valid votes, including those mislaid or previously mishandled, are counted. Seven out of the eight counties in the district had issues in the Nov. 3 election, primarily when accounting for absentee and affidavit ballots.
DelConte said that if a Board cannot correct its mistake based on maintained records of the ballots, election officials should hold a full recount of every single ballot, as necessary, to ensure all voters’ rights are protected.
“The winner of this election must be decided by the real parties in interest: the voters,” DelConte wrote. “And to do so, every valid vote must be counted.”
The race is a rematch between Democratic incumbent Anthony Brindisi and Republican Claudia Tenney, who held the seat from 2017 to 2019. The district includes parts of the Southern Tier, Central New York and Mohawk Valley.
On Election Day, Tenney led Brindisi by more than 28,000 votes. More than 60,000 absentee and affidavit ballots, however, were received by county election officials in the district, according to the decision. Those cut down Tenney’s lead to 12 votes, according to the most recent tallies from the Boards of Elections.
But there are still a couple of thousand votes in the district that are disputed or were never counted by election officials in violation of state election law, as evident in the court’s decision.
The candidates asked the court for judicial review over ballot counting last month, but the many issues with county Boards of Elections’ methods have complicated that process.
In Oneida County, for example, 1,500 affidavit ballots were rejected by election officials before they were ever canvassed, or accounted for in processes laid out by New York State Election Law. Canvassing is the procedure of checking ballots are valid and compiling them before the actually counting begins.
According to his decision, the commissioners instead handed piles of the already rejected affidavit ballots over to campaign representatives, who “reviewed, sorted, restacked and challenged those ballots on their own.”
The commissioners did not offer the justice any explanation for why this was the case, or why they did not give the campaigns a chance to object to the Board’s refusal of those 1,500 ballots, as required by election law.
Oneida County election officials also lost track of sticky notes they attached to seven ballots to indicate they were challenged and the basis for the candidate’s objection, which violates election law. The state requires that election commissioners specifically record objections by writing, in ink, on the face of the ballot the objection and how it was ruled.
In transport to the Oswego court for review last month, some of those sticky notes appeared to go missing. The Oneida County election commissioners said that made it impossible to track whether some of the votes were even counted.
Other issues came from mislaid or newly discovered ballots. In Chenango County, 67 votes, at least 44 of which appeared to be valid, were found in a drawer and had not been counted.
In ordering the recounts, delConte gave the Brindisi campaign a partial victory. They had requested a recount in some, but not all counties. During oral arguments on Monday, the justice took issue with the lack of consistency Brindisi’s remedy would allow.
DelConte denied all relief requests from Tenney’s lawyers.
In his decision, DelConte said it’s the responsibility of the Court and county election officials to count every valid vote, no matter how time-consuming.
There are only 26 days before the new Congressional term begins, and the court is approaching holiday vacations when it will be closed. The court did not give a specific date for when counties must finish correcting errors.
Once corrections are made, the court can then rule on each ballot challenged by the candidates.
All parties will reconvene for a meeting with the court on Friday, Dec. 18.