Absentee ballot counting ground to a halt at 11 a.m. Friday in the only still-undecided congressional race in the nation, as lawyers and strategists for both candidates continued preparation for a showdown in State Supreme Court next week.
Republican challenger Randy Altschuler gained six votes on incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop in the count yesterday, narrowing the difference between the two candidates to 271 votes or 264 votes, depending on which side is doing the tally. (Bishop's camp has his lead at 271 but the difference is only 264 according to Altschuler's people.)
But more than 1,400 paper ballots remain uncounted — two-thirds of them because of objections raised by Altschuler — and the decision to count them or not will be made by Supreme Court Justice Peter H. Mayer, possibly as early as next week.
Mayer will rule on the validity of an assortment of objections to the remaining absentee ballots, but how the judge rules on the biggest block of ballot objections will likely determine who represents New York's First Congressional District come January 1.
Of Altschuler's approximately 1,000 outstanding ballot objections, about 650 of them are based on residency challenges. Altschuler's lawyers are preparing to argue that the voters in question were improperly registered to vote in Suffolk County, according to Altschuler spokesman Rob Ryan.
Ryan said the Altschuler team's investigation of those 650 challenged absentee ballots has turned up "hundreds" of voters that he contends should not have been allowed by the Board of Elections to register and vote in Suffolk County. He declined to give a specific number. The research is still continuing, he said.
The voters in question include people who own homes in New York City, have a New York City address on their drivers' licences and, in numerous instances, voted in New York City multiple — even dozens of — times over the past decade or so. Some of them have gotten STAR tax relief — available only on one's principal dwelling — on homes outside the 1st CD. Ryan said the Altschuler team has also turned up recorded mortgage documents in which some of the voters affirmed their NYC residences were their primary residences — and then voted in Suffolk County.
"That's either voter fraud or bank fraud," Ryan said.
Ryan accuses New York City Democrats of scheming to influence elections outside of the city.
"They have taken proactive measures to encourage people to vote from their vacation homes," Ryan said. He pointed to CountryVote.org, a website he said was established by a group of Democratic lawyers to encourage wealthy New York City Democrats who have second homes in the country to register at their country address — where their vote in an election will have more influence.
"It's a move to stack the deck. The Democrats win in NYC by such wide margins, they don't need the votes there, so why not put people in other places where their votes will count," Ryan said.
Altschuler's lawyers will argue that New York state election law requires voters to register at their primary residence, Ryan said.
"Just because you have a lot of money, does that mean you can pick and choose where you want to vote," asked Ryan.
"Wow, that is really an incredible statement coming from the spokesman of a carpet-bagging, outsourcing millionaire," Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider said in response. The Bishop campaign has accused the challenger of "shopping" for a congressional district to run in, having "scouted several districts in New Jersey" before moving to New York's 1st CD, said Schneider, where Altschuler voted for the first time in 2009."
"But actually that is exactly what New York State election law allows," Schneider said. Second-home owners have the right to choose to register to vote from their second home and the courts — including the state's highest court — have consistently upheld their right to do so, he said.
"If Altschuler wants to change state election law, fine. Let him seek an act of the State Legislature. But you don't do this now, in this way, after an election is over — and only after you see that you're losing," Schneider said.
Bishop's aide also noted that Altschuler filed residency objections against absentee ballots cast by registered Democrats only.
"I guess it doesn't matter to Randy if wealthy Republicans with dual residences choose to vote in Suffolk County," Schneider said, noting again that state GOP chairman Ed Cox voted from his second home in Westhampton, rather than from his residence in Manhattan, where his wife, Tricia Nixon Cox, cast her ballot. Their son Christopher lost to Altschuler in a hard-fought three-way Republican primary election this year.
"This isn't about justice, it's about Randy Altschuler being a sore loser," Schneider said.
Ryan said there will be more disclosures of "voter fraud" in this race on a Fox News television show Sunday morning. Fox's Eric Shawn reported earlier this week that 48 of the Democratic voters whose residency Altschuler has challenged were simultaneously registered to vote in New York City and Suffolk County and one of them had actually voted in both places. Being registered in two places at once and voting twice in an election are both felonies under state election law.
"At the end of the day, this case is going to be tried before a judge, not in the media," Schneider said. "The judge's ruling will be based on legal precedent. And the precedent clear."
Judge Mayer will begin reviewing ballot objections and hearing arguments on the residency issue on Wednesday.