The NY-20 Absentee Ballots: A Potential Tie?

The NY-20 special election is now going to come down to the absentee ballots. For one thing, the Election Night numbers between Democratic candidate Scott Murphy and Republican Jim Tedisco are in a virtual tie as the vote totals are still being double-checked, but this does not take into account any absentee votes. So the next question becomes: Who exactly were the absentee voters?

This afternoon, with the assistance of TPM intern Versha Sharma, I called the various counties to get the breakdowns of how many of the returned absentee ballots have been from registered Democrats, registered Republicans, unaffiliated voters or people from any of the minor ideologically-driven parties that exist under New York’s fusion-voting system.

So here’s where we stand: From over 6,600 ballots that have been returned so far, Republicans are about 45%, Democrats 33%, with unaffiliated voters and minor parties making up the balance. Still more ballots can arrive in the mail between now and the deadline — April 7 for most absentee voters, April 13 for overseas and military ballots — but at this point the percentages probably won’t change significantly.

And the bottom line answer, as you will see, is every bit as frustrating as the current status quo.If those registration numbers sound like great news for Tedisco, remember that the district itself has a voter registration of 42% Republican to 27% Democratic — and yet Kirsten Gillibrand picked it up in 2006 and won big in 2008, Barack Obama narrowly carried it in 2008, and Murphy has a 25-vote margin from the Election Night totals. This is because the independent voters have begun voting heavily Democratic, and even some nominal Republicans are crossing over, making this seat a pure toss-up in real terms.

If we hazard a few guesses — that Murphy got nearly all the Democrats, Tedisco got a large but slightly smaller share of Republicans, and Murphy took the unaffiliated voters by the kind of strong margins that Democrats have been pulling off recently here — we can come to a rough estimate. And that is…a statistical tie, with the result of the election changing based on whether Murphy got 90% of the Democrats or 91%, or Tedisco 85% of Republicans or 84%.

Both parties have been predicting that the absentee ballots will favor their candidate. Democrats base this on the home counties of ballots, assuming the same percentages for the candidates as the Election Day voters. Republicans base this on the edge in registered Republicans over Democrats among the absentees. Do not believe either side’s spin — it’s all based on assumptions that can be rebutted pretty easily.

The bottom line is this: We can’t predict with any level of confidence what is going to happen here. The best thing to do is to simply sit back and wait for the votes to actually be counted. And of course, the candidates could take a cue from Minnesota — bring out the lawyers to make sure that their own voters don’t get rejected, and to frustrate the other guy in his own efforts.

(Note: We know for a fact that one of the uncounted absentee voters is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a vote for Murphy, but that hardly paints a full picture.)