After what appeared to be an unofficial victory for incumbent Congressman Tim Bishop on Election Day, a recanvass of voting machines in the First Congressional District has swung the lead in challenger Randy Altschuler’s favor by close to 400 votes.
Last Wednesday morning, unofficial tallies from the Suffolk County Board of Elections showed Bishop, a Democrat from Southampton, with a 3,500-vote lead over his Republican challenger, a businessman from St. James.
Altschuler’s camp was quick to state the election was “too close to call,” and when the board of elections tabulated the results from the voting machines directly, Altschuler took a 392-vote lead in the Congressional race last Friday.
This is the first time these voting machines have been used in a general election in Suffolk County.
Over 10,000 absentee ballots have yet to be counted in the race.
The way the board of elections collects its information on election night is via phone by poll workers who read the tallies for each race to the board, which then posts them online. After that, the board of elections downloads the results electronically from each voting machine, which in this case, was when Altschuler took the lead.
On Tuesday, Altschuler spokesman Rob Ryan said the discrepancy between Wednesday morning’s unofficial results and Friday’s results is likely due to human error.
Ryan said that poll workers’ unfamiliarity with the new system likely led to confusion in the numbers they reported back to the board of elections, and that it was not the integrity of the new voting machines.
“It’s all human error and this is what the audit will prove,” said Ryan.
Suffolk County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Anita Katz’s spokesperson Ivan Young declined to comment on the cause of the swing in ballots, saying he expects a state mandated audit will unearth the problem and that the board of elections is not commenting at this time because it is still unsure of what happened and expects litigation may be involved.
On Monday, the Suffolk County Board of Elections began an audit of a randomly selected three-percent of its machines to ensure the downloaded results are in fact correct, according to Young.
Young said 43 machines will be checked this week, comparing the scanned paper ballots with the electronic tally of results.
“It’s going slow,” said Young of the process. He said only three voting machines had been tabulated on Monday and Tuesday, and while he originally projected the audit to take eight days, it will likely go longer.
Should discrepancies be discovered, and not reconciled, Young said the audit will be expanded to include five percent of the district’s voting machines and if a discrepancy pops up once more, it will be further expanded to cover 12 percent. Only if problems are still discovered will the board of elections be required to perform a full district, paper ballot recount.
However, according to Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider, that does not go far enough in ensuring voters all their ballots have been counted correctly given the inconsistencies in reporting on election day and the results revealed later that week.
Bishop’s camp has called for a full recount of all district ballots, which Ryan said the Altschuler camp does not support. Ryan said it was too soon, and “jumping the gun” to assume a full recount, which would be costly, is necessary. The outcome of the audits should come first, he said, as is prescribed by state law and Ryan added he is confident the audit will show there were no issues with the new electronic voting machines.
According to published reports, Republican Suffolk County Board of Elections Commissioner Wayne Rogers, who did not return a call for comment, is opposed to a full recount, while Young said Commissioner Katz is in favor of a full, hand count of all paper ballots.
“The concept of the scanner is if there are discrepancies you always have the paper ballot,” said Young. “That was the intent of electing to use these scanners.”
On Tuesday, said Schneider, the Bishop camp intended to file a lawsuit with a Suffolk County judge to force the board of elections to proceed with a paper ballot recount of all votes by hand. As of press time, the suit had yet to be filed, but Schneider said it was imminent.
“Clearly things went wrong, clearly there are unanswered questions and fortunately we don’t need there to be,” said Schneider. “This is why Suffolk County chose machines with paper ballots.”
Schneider added that with 460 election districts within the First Congressional District, should just one ballot be misread electronically in each district, it could change who is in the lead for a seat in the United States House of Representatives.
“Literally, one vote per district changes the race, which is why there is such a great need to get this right,” he said.