Democrat Dave Clegg apparently has won the closely contested race for Ulster County district attorney as county Board of Elections staff on Wednesday, Dec. 11 completed their tally of votes cast in the Nov. 6 election.
“He’s the winner, pending any court appeals or a manual recount. Both of those are long shots,” said Republican elections commissioner Tom Turco Wednesday evening. “Every time we come up with a new number, every time a judge is involved, any time we talk about a hand recount, the odds are against anything changing.”
The count ended shortly before 4:30 p.m. with Clegg taking a total of 26,331 votes to Kavanagh’s 26,254. The 77-vote margin is under the threshold to trigger a county law which would mandate a manual recount of every ballot cast in the election — a process that Democratic county elections commissioner Ashley Dittus said would be lengthy and expensive. Kavanagh, however, has the option to concede the election and thus avert a recount.
Clegg, a 66-year-old trial attorney and onetime assistant public defender, ran on a reform platform promising to seek alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders and declaring the war on drugs a failure. Kavanagh, a 48-year-old Republican, ran on his experience as a career prosecutor who currently serves as chief assistant to incumbent DA Holley Carnright.
Kavanagh ended Election Night with a three-vote lead over Clegg, but that lead evaporated with the counting of absentee and affidavit ballots. On Wednesday, election officials concluded their count by tallying about 200 ballots that had been challenged by one side or the other, but were ruled valid by state Supreme Court Judge Richard McNally. All of the ballots counted on Wednesday and another 53 that McNally ruled void could potentially be appealed to a higher court.
As of about 5 p.m. Wednesday, Kavanagh was conferring with campaign staff in the office of Republican elections commissioner Tom Turco and had not made any announcement about whether he would appeal any of the ballots, or seek a manual recount.
If the recount does take place, Dittus said, BOE officials would have to hire monitors for the count and potentially seek a larger space to accommodate the process. Dittus said a routine recount of 3 percent of the total ballots cast in the election had taken a full week and suggested that a full recount under the county law would likely take much longer.
“He has the right [to a recount],” said Dittus. “But it is going to take a long time and cost taxpayers a lot of money and that will be on him.”