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Judge’s first ruling bumps Bishop lead to 259 votes

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In his first ruling in the lawsuit over the First Congressional District election today, State Supreme Court Justice Peter H. Mayer rejected a plea by Randy Altschuler’s lawyer to exclude 161 ballots cast by voters on Election Day but not scanned by voting machines.

The tally of the unscanned ballots went in favor of incumbent Tim Bishop, netting him 12 votes and increasing his lead over Altschuler to 259 votes.

Absent “objective evidence of fraud,” Mayer ruled, the law requires election officials to count the votes. Altschuler’s objections to counting the unscanned ballots were centered on “chain-of-custody type issues,” Mayer said. Without evidence of fraud, that’s simply not enough to justify disenfranchising 161 voters, Mayer ruled.

His ruling came in a crowded makeshift courtroom in the Suffolk Board of Elections Yaphank headquarters, after the judge had an informal session with elections workers who explained the various reasons why some ballots weren’t scanned by voting machines at the polls and demonstrated for him how the unscanned ballots were secured and transported to BOE headquarters.

The judge then set out his agenda for Thursday, when he said he’d be at the BOE ready to start ruling on ballot objections by 10 a.m.

Mayer said he wants to rule on objections in groups, according to the type of objection raised. Some objections were based on challenges to signatures, others based on missing postmarks or missing BOE stamps indicating dates of receipt, others based on missing signatures on the oath required for each absentee ballot, and still others based on alleged irregularities in the absentee ballot applications or the condition of the envelope containing the ballot.

The largest type of objection by far is based on residency. Altschuler has nearly 650 objections based on voter residency, and his attorney, Vincent J. Messina, asked the court to allow him until Monday to finish compiling evidence as to the residency of those 600-plus voters. Mayer did not rule on that request today, though he did compile a list of the other types of objections he’d be ruling on tomorrow.

Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider said Altschuler is grasping at straws with the residency objections.

“Altschuler objected to every absentee ballot mailed to an out-of-county address for a registered Democrat,” Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider said today after the proceedings. “It’s not going to amount to anything.”

Altschuler’s spokesman, Rob Ryan, said he did not know for sure if that was the case.

“Why are they so afraid of this issue,” Ryan asked. “Are they afraid there will be widespread voter fraud of the type uncovered by a Fox News investigation?”

Eric Shawn, a reporter for the cable news channel said the “Fox Voter Fraud Unit” found 48 voters registered to vote both in New York City and in the 1st CD in Suffolk County, which is a felony under state law. In a blog published Nov.29 and in a broadcast Tuesday evening, Shawn said his team had found one voter among those 48 who voted in New York City on Election Day after having filed an affidavit ballot in Suffolk, also a felony.

Asked if the Altschuler camp had uncovered more widespread abuses, Ryan said, “You’ll just have to wait to find out. We have to keep some suspense.”