Local election races hang in the balance of uncounted absentee ballots

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U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said he is confident he will win re-election over challenger George Santos due to the influx of absentee ballots yet to be counted. (Photo by Robert Pelaez)

More than 140,000 absentee ballots were received in Nassau County for the 2020 general elections, according to state figures. 

Though it didn’t take long for major news outlets to confirm that former Vice President Joe Biden had won New York, local races throughout Long Island still lay in the balance of a record number of ballots cast by mail.

Nassau Democratic Elections Commissioner James Scheuerman said 142,962 absentee ballots were cast in Nassau County this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, a figure that shatters the previous record of 48,000 in 2016.

While a record number of ballots were cast this year, the ones that were sent by mail will begin to be counted on Nov. 10.

Counties throughout the state were permitted to begin canvassing, the process of ensuring all absentee ballots are accounted for, on Nov. 6, according to state officials. 

The Nov. 6 date was the last possible day for the state Board of Elections to conduct a comprehensive overview and ensure no one’s vote counted more than once.

Officials from the Nassau County Board of Elections did not say when the counting of the ballots would conclude but did say results would be finalized by Nov. 28.

Nassau officials such as County Executive Laura Curran have been vocal over the past month in promoting early voting and absentee ballots due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

According to early election figures, 1.4 million Long Islanders voted this year, compared with 1.33 million in 2016. 

More than 350,000 Nassau residents cast their ballots on Election Day Tuesday, with others taking advantage of the county’s second year of early voting and use of absentee ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Early voting saw more than 223,000 Nassau County residents cast their ballots from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1, according to state figures.

In New York’s 3rd Congressional District, financial professional and Republican candidate George Santos of Queens led incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). Initial vote tallies gave Santos 137,864 votes, or 47 percent, while Suozzi had 133,634, or 46 percent.

Despite trailing, Suozzi said he is confident he will ultimately prevail victorious in the election by at least 20,000 votes.

“There are 90,000 absentee ballots, of which 51 percent are registered Democrats,” Suozzi said. “Seventeen percent are registered Republicans. So that’s three-to-one Democrats to Republicans, the rest are blanks and independents. So I feel very good that I’ll win by at least two-to-one in the absentee ballots, which means Ill win by more than 20,000 votes.”

Suozzi said there were 85,892 absentee ballots that had yet to be counted, a figure he said was expected to rise to 90,000. Of those 90,000 absentee ballots, 48,097 were in Nassau County. Of the county ballots, 25,391 were cast by registered Democrats, while 9,340 were cast by  Republicans.

The Santos campaign said he still remained confident in defeating Suozzi despite the absentee ballots that remain outstanding as of Friday.

“George Santos is so thankful for the wonderful support he’s received from those in his district,” the campaign said. “George is confident that after every valid vote is counted, he will prevail in this race.”

Gina Sillitti, a candidate for the 16th Assembly District and the director of human resources for the Nassau County Board of Elections, currently trails in her race by more than 3,000 votes.  Sillitti said she is also confident that the absentee ballots yet to be counted will result in a win for her.

“While I’m down on the Election Day’s machine count, thousands more Democrats voted by absentee in advance,” Sillitti told Patch. “I am confident that once all the votes are counted, I will be the next Assemblywoman for the 16th District. I trust the process completely and look forward to celebrating in a few weeks.”

A request for comment from the campaign of Ragini Srivastava, Sillitti’s opponent, was not immediately returned.

Srivastava currently holds the lead with 24,831 votes, or 49 percent, to Sillitti’s 21,343 votes, or 42 percent.

So as New Yorkers and elected officials remain in election purgatory, the question becomes; Why did New York need more time than the other 49 throughout the country to ensure the validity of mail-in ballots?

Craig Burnett, a political science professor at Hofstra University, said it’s tough to pinpoint why the count is scheduled to take so long, but noted the struggles that were prominent during the state’s primary elections over the summer.

“Normally absentee ballots are sparse, as people traditionally vote in-person,” Burnett said in a phone interview with Blank Slate Media. “We experienced these delays during the primary elections. We hoped they would have learned a bit more from it, but the influx of ballots is so large for this general election, it’s really tough to say why.”

Burnett said he hopes that state officials will consider modifying election laws to aid voters and ballot counters so that local races do not have to wait nearly four weeks for certified results.

“I’m sure nobody is really happy about this process taking such a long time,” Burnett said. “I think in the next five-to-ten years we could see New York adopt laws that do not require a reason for submitting an absentee ballot. It’s a fairly easy law to change, so there should be some consideration about it.”

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