Democrats appeared poised to maintain their single-vote majority in the Ulster County Legislature after a count of absentee ballots failed to upend election night results. Meanwhile, with the absentee count complete in three of the county’s 23 legislative districts Republican District Attorney hopeful Mike Kavanagh slightly extended his election night lead over Democratic rival Dave Clegg.
And the race for county legislature in Saugerties’ District 1 between incumbent Mary Wawro and Democrat Aaron Levine may be headed to a mandated recount after Wawro came out 12 votes ahead after the counting of absentee ballots.
Election officials kicked off their count 2,275 absentee and 428 affidavit ballots on Monday following a mandated waiting period to allow for the arrival of absentee ballots sent from overseas. Rather than counting election districts in numerical order, officials began the absentee count focusing on the District Attorney’s race, that saw a three vote margin out of approximately 50,000 votes for Republican Mike Kavanagh, ahead of Democrat Dave Clegg. Thus the first, fourth and 22nd legislative districts, where absentee ballots could determine the result, were opened first. In each case, the candidate who held the lead on election night maintained their advantage. In the 22nd legislative district, representing Olive, Shandaken, Hardenburgh and Denning, former legislator John Parete running on the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party lines prevailed over incumbent Democrat Kathy Nolan by a 1,642 to 1,621 vote margin. In Saugerties first legislative district, incumbent Republican Mary Wawro slipped by Aaron Levine by a margin of 1,351 to 1,339. In district 4 in the Town of Ulster, Democrat Brian Cahill beat out Republican challenger Andi Turco-Levin 1,377 to 1,324. The outcome shuffles a few seats, but leaves Democrats with their current 12-11 majority in the legislature.
While counting the selected legislative districts, election officials focused on closest race of all. Kavanagh, who currently works as Chief Assistant District Attorney ended election night with a three vote lead over Clegg, a trial attorney who ran on a platform of criminal justice reform. As of Wednesday, the absentee/affidavit count had extended Kavanagh’s lead to 72 votes. Despite the widening lead, vote totals had not yet included Democratic bastions in Kingston and New Paltz. Complicating prognostication on the race further; while registered Democrats submitted about 400 more absentee ballots than registered Republicans, election night results indicate that a significant number of Democrats crossed party lines to vote for Kavanagh. Clegg received about 3000 fewer votes on the Democratic Party line that County Executive Pat Ryan.
The full countywide absentee count is expected to be completed by Tuesday November 26 when election commissioners are scheduled to appear before a State Supreme Court Judge to submit the results. At that hearing both sides in the DA’s race will have an opportunity to submit challenges to individual absentee ballots. As of Wednesday, November 20, both sides had challenged about 60 of the absentee and affidavit ballots. If the challenges have the potential to swing the results of the election, a Judge will need to rule on each challenge before a final vote count can be certified and a winner determined. In another potential wrinkle, a county law mandates that if the winners margin of victory is less than one half of one percent of the total votes cast, election officials will need to go back and recount every ballot cast including early votes, election day results and absentee and affidavit ballots. This is likely to be the case in the Wawro-Levine election.
“It’s a complicated process that most people don’t know exists,” said Republican county election commissioner Tom Turco. “Unless it’s a close election, then we’re under the microscope.”