What’s Next In NY-20: The Courts

Frequent readers of this site might recognize the next steps in New York’s 20th Congressional District, where tonight’s special election for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s old House seat has left Democratic candidate Scott Murphy leading Republican Jim Tedisco by 65 votes with 100% of precincts in: Courtroom proceedings, as the lawyers sort their way through absentee ballots.

The key issues here is that the Republican Party filed a legal complaint today to contest the election results, before the polls even closed — which is not actually unheard of in New York, I’ve been told by state board of elections spokesman Bob Brehm.

Ballots have already been impounded tonight, for safekeeping. A hearing has been scheduled for this coming Monday, at which the candidates and the government will hammer out the procedures for counting, challenging and resolving ballots — and you can bet the absentees will play a major part in this.

“There are statutory processes for canvassing and re-canvassing,” Brehm explained, “and basically they’re on hold until the court can set up a calendar that is mutually agreeable.”Brehm said that at least 10,055 total absentee ballots had been issued, including 1,882 military and overseas ballots, of which 5,907 total had been returned. Of the remainder, the regular absentees have the next week to arrive in the mail, while the military/overseas ballots have been given an extra six days on top of that under a recent consent decree with the Justice Department.

Election officials will be able to sort through these envelopes and screen out those that should be rejected, but they won’t actually be able to count them until the court gives the go-ahead.

The legal requirements for absentee ballots in New York are actually quite similar to the ones in Minnesota: Ballots have to be properly signed; the signature must match the one on file; the voter must be registered in their precinct; the voter cannot have also voted at the polls on Election Day. One exception is that Minnesota requires all absentee ballots to be witnessed by another registered voter, while New York doesn’t require any witnessing except for certain narrow situations — for example, if a disabled voter can only make a mark and not a full signature, or if a military voter doesn’t have access to a regular post office.

So there you have it. This race is headed to the court system, which will oversee the counting and recounting of votes. One problem Murphy might have is that Al Franken’s lawyers aren’t available right now. And in Tedisco’s favor, Norm Coleman’s attorneys are busy, too.

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