A count of absentee and affidavit ballots has left Democrat Dave Clegg clinging to a miniscule 45-vote lead over Republican Mike Kavanagh in the closely watched race for Ulster County district attorney. But with hundreds of ballot challenges awaiting a judge’s ruling — and a county law that will likely trigger an automatic recount of every vote cast — a final decision in the contest could still be weeks away.
Kavanagh, who currently serves as chief assistant to incumbent DA Holley Carnright, ended Election Night with a three-vote lead out of more than 50,000 cast over Clegg, a trial attorney who ran on a platform of criminal justice reform. On Monday, Nov. 18, following a mandatory 15-day waiting period, election officials began counting 2,275 absentee and 428 affidavit ballots. On Tuesday, Nov. 26, clerks at the Board of Elections told the Ulster Publishing that they had completed the count and were tabulating final results.
After fluctuating reports as Tuesday wore on, as of press time, Democratic Election Commissioner Ashley Dittus reported that the count had ended with Clegg holding a 45-vote advantage over his Republican rival.
But the end of the ballot count will not produce a final result in the election. At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, both sides are expected to appear in state Supreme Court, where a judge will begin hearing arguments on 289 ballots that were the subject of challenges by either party. Those votes have yet to be counted.
The outcome could be further delayed by a 2015 county law that mandates a recount of every vote cast in elections where the margin of victory is exceptionally close. The law goes into effect once election officials have completed standard canvassing and re-canvassing procedures and come up with an unofficial final vote count. In contests where more than 3,000 votes were cast, such as this one, the mandatory manual recount is triggered if the margin of victory is less than two-tenths of 1 percent of all ballots counted. In this case, that threshold margin could be between 100 and 120 votes.