Brindisi maintains lead over Tenney in 22nd congressional race

CORTLAND, N.Y. — The Democratic candidate looking to unseat the Republican congresswoman in the race for New York’s 22nd Congressional district maintains his lead in Cortland County after officials at Board of Elections finished counting absentee and provisional ballots Thursday morning.

However, officials in other counties across the district continue to count ballots cast in the close race for a seat in the House of Representatives between Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) and state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) following the Nov. 5 general election.

On election night, the initial vote tally had Brindisi narrowly defeating Tenney statewide by over 1,400 votes. Days later, it was an error with a voting machine in Broome County would shrink that lead by around 200 votes. This would result in 117,931 votes, or 50.3 percent of the votes going to Brindisi while Tenney would receive 116,638 votes, or 49.7 percent of the votes.

This translates to a 0.6 percent, or a 1,293 vote margin of victory for Brindisi. That narrow margin of victory statewide was enough to prompt the Brindisi campaign to request the state Supreme Court to impound, or secure the ballots. The request was granted Nov. 9.

Tom Brown, Democratic Commissioner at the Cortland County Board of Elections, said Tuesday afternoon following the order, officers from the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department came to literally place the votes under lock-and-key.

“The sheriff’s department comes and they lock down our filing cabinets with their own locks,” he said. “Then they seal off the room where the voting machines are and … other equipment we may have. They put their occupancy seals on there to make sure nobody is in or out of there until the court makes a decision as to how we proceed.”

Similarly, the boards of election offices in all eight counties of the district had done the same.  At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, officials from both campaigns were in Oneida County Supreme Court in Utica before a judge learning how counting will proceed. Once the court lifted the order, the ballots were accessed by each county’s Democratic and Republican commissioners, in addition to law enforcement officer.

Brown said while candidates do not typically ask the courts to step in, securing ballots and counting every vote is standard protocol every election cycle.

“The ballots being impounded is unusual,” he said. “It doesn’t happen very often and in this case, it’s because it’s a big race, but we follow the same process for each election. We’re not doing anything new as far as we are concerned. It’s just getting through the process and making everybody comfortable with how it’s being done and that all the votes are being counted correctly.”

Under New York Election Law, absentee ballots had to be postmarked by Nov. 5 and could be received no later than Nov. 13. Election officials will also have to make sure that any provisional ballots, or votes cast by people whose names do not appear in the system, are valid.

Altogether, there are reportedly about 15,000 absentee ballots and thousands of provisional ballots to count throughout the congressional district which spans Broome, Cortland, Chenango, Madison and Oneida counties, as well as parts of Oswego, Herkimer and Tioga counties.

In Cortland County, of the 1,214 absentee ballots sent out, the Board of Elections has gotten 970 of them back, Brown said. Meanwhile, 118 provisional ballots have been validated and have to be added to the final vote count.

It remains unclear how long it will take for the process to wrap up across the district since it’s up to each county to decide on when counting will begin.

Following the order being lifted, the Cortland County Board of Elections began counting votes Wednesday morning which included those provisional ballots and a total of 972 absentee ballots. The result would not change the results for the candidates. Brindisi maintains his lead in Cortland County with a total of 9,209 votes compared to the 7,375 votes received by Tenney.

However, while counting is finished in Cortland County, the counting continues elsewhere in the district. Officials in Oswego county are reportedly hoping to finish tallying votes by the end of this week while the district’s two largest counties, Broome and Oneida, are hoping to finish up the process before Thanksgiving.

The issue may still persist even once the votes are tallied, though. Brown said the next step will be for both the Brindisi and Tenney campaigns to review the ballots and voice any concerns they may have.   

“Let’s say someone didn’t sign their ballot or the receive date, they object to that,” Brown said. “They have a chance to look through those and if they have any problems with them, we record them and talk about it at that point.”

Once concerns, if any, are taken into account, Brown and Republican Commissioner Bob Howe have the authority to finalize the official vote count for Cortland County. However, Brown also noted even their decision can be contested by either campaign.

“Of course, they have the recourse of going to court and making their case before a judge,” he said, “So we’re not the final arbiters if they decide they want to go further with it.”

By the numbers: Here’s a breakdown of the NY-22 race at the district level on Election night:

Oneida County

Brindisi: 50.6 percent (38,263 votes)

Tennye:  49.4 percent (37,307 votes)

Madison County

Tenney:  51.7 percent (12,557 votes)

Brindisi: 48.3 percent (11,745 votes)

Herkimer County

Tenney: 55.7 percent (9,787 votes)

Brindisi: 7,792 percent (7,792 votes)

Broome County

Brindisi: 55.7 percent (37,406 votes)

Tenney: 44.3 percent (29,742 votes)

Cortland County

Brindisi: 55.2 percent (8,597 votes)

Tenney:  44.8 percent (6,970 votes)

Oswego County

Tenney: 62.7 percent (9,103 votes)

Brindisi: 37.3 percent (5,407 votes)

Chenango County

Tenney: 56.3 percent (8,755 votes)

Brindisi: 43.7 percent (6,803 votes)

Tioga County

Tenney: 55.8 percent (2,417 votes)

Brindisi: 44.2 percent (1,918 votes)