After a rollercoaster of a week at the Suffolk County Board of Elections, incumbent Congressman Tim Bishop has taken a 235-vote lead over his Republican challenger Randy Altschuler with all absentee and affidavit ballots counted. This is one of three house races yet to be decided nationwide since voting took place on November 2.
At the close of counting some 11,500 absentee and affidavit ballots, Bishop leads the race 97,050 to 96,815, according to Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider.
“We are thrilled,” said Schneider shortly after the counting ceased at the board of elections on Tuesday afternoon. “To have gained this many votes in absentee ballots at the same time as we have faced an aggressive effort to challenge Bishop voters is phenomenal. We are very confident Tim Bishop has won this election.”
Schneider said the campaign was pleased with the outcome mostly because it showed support across party lines for the Democratic Congressman, with significantly more absentee and affidavit ballots filed by Republicans and Conservatives than Democratic voters.
“If it had followed party lines, we would be down right now,” he said.
The 600-vote swing in Bishop’s favor is the second large swing this race has seen since election day when unofficial results handed Bishop the race by some 3,500 votes only to have Altschuler take a 383-vote lead once new electronic voting machines were re-read at the board of elections later that week.
Since then the board of elections has performed a random three-percent recanvas of voting machines – 47 in total – and according to both Schneider and Altschuler spokesman Rob Ryan the completed audit has shown no errors in the machines.
While the Bishop camp initially called for a full, paper ballot recount, on Tuesday Schneider said the audit gives him little basis to believe the paper ballots differ from the machine tabulations, despite being unable to explain the 4,000-vote swing.
“The three percent audit seems to say the machines were working well, so from our perspective we want to finish the process we are currently in before we move on to another,” said Schneider.”
Up next, after a Thanksgiving recess, both Altschuler and Bishop have been summoned to Suffolk County Supreme Court next Tuesday where a judge will address the over 2,000 ballots challenged in the race.
Altschuler has challenged 1,261 votes while Bishop has challenged 790.
This week both camps have issued statements regarding challenges, with the Altschuler campaign criticizing the Bishop team for challenging over 50 poll workers absentee ballots in an effort to “steal” the election. Ryan said many of Altschuler’s own challenges are against individuals “who own multi-million dollar summer homes in the Hamptons, but who actually live and work in Manhattan.”
Forty-six challenges, added Ryan, are for affidavit ballots for people he said appear not to be registered to vote in the First Congressional District.
Meanwhile, the Bishop campaign questioned the Altschuler camp’s decision to challenge votes made by Bishop’s parents, who voted with absentee ballots from Florida, but are lifelong Southampton residents. The campaign also criticized challenges against 31 students at Stony Brook University and voters from Jefferson’s Ferry, a retirement community where Bishop has found support.
According to Schneider, one goal in the next week is to reduce the number of challenges, on both sides, by working with the Altschuler camp to reach agreement on which objections can be dismissed to reduce the large number of ballots a judge will have to rule on.
For example, said Schneider, his team objected to poll workers absentee ballots, he said, because Republicans would not release the names of their poll workers. Once those are verified, Schneider said they would pull those objections.
In a statement issued Tuesday evening, Ryan said his team had calculated Bishop’s lead at 234, and noted that there are still over 2,000 votes yet to be counted as they have been contested and will have to be reviewed by a judge next week.
“Over the Thanksgiving weekend our count and legal teams will be reviewing all pertinent information,” said Ryan. “We want to ensure that every legally cast ballot is fairly and accurately counted.”