Race remains in limbo, court decision due on absentee ballots in very close race
BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
The 2013 race for Orangetown town supervisor is proof that every vote counts.
With a month of ballot counting, recounting and legal wrangling since Election Day on Nov. 5, the race between incumbent Andy Stewart, D-Nyack, and challenger Walter Wettje, R-Pearl River, remains undecided – and is expected to remain undecided until at least next week.
The current tally has Stewart up by just three votes, with an ongoing court fight examining whether 12 sealed absentee ballots should be counted. Stewart, seeking his second two-year term, contends problems with those ballots should prevent them from being counted. The 12 ballots are from voters registered in the GOP or consider GOP-leaning. If some ballots are thrown out or do not have a vote for supervisor recorded it is possible that the vote could come out tied.
Stewart said he has been informed that tie votes are rare, but not unheard of in New York State, and protocols have been established on settling a tie. The two parties must agree to a game of chance to select the winner, he explained. There are several options offered to the combatants, but they must agree to select one of them, and perform it before a presiding judge.
He said he was told the options include flipping a coin and calling heads or tails, drawing the taller from among two straws in a glass or cutting a deck of cards with the holder of the highest face card winning. Board of Elections Commissioner Kristen Stavisky confirmed that a game of chance will be agreed upon in the event of a tie.
After hearings this week, state Supreme Court Justice Victor J. Alfieri has told lawyers for Stewart and Wettje to submit their final documents related to the absentee ballots. Alfieri is expected to make a decision sometime between Friday and Tuesday.
Nothing has been simple about the supervisor’s race since Election Day. Initial tallies showed challenger Wettje scoring an upset with a 36-vote lead, 5,948 to 5,912, and he and other Rockland County Republicans celebrated apparent victories that included County Legislature member Ed Day, R-New City, easily defeating former judge and legislator David Fried, D-Spring Valley, in the race for Rockland county executive.
But that’s when the waiting began.
Stewart immediately began investigation possible legal challenges with the voting. However, the Rockland County Board of Elections had to wait until an unrelated court challenge was completed to start the process of checking voting machine tallies from the election.
After two weeks, Wettje was down to an 18-vote lead over Stewart as absentee ballots and other ballots were counted. But both sides in the race filed legal challenges related to the absentee ballots.
Neither side has conceded the race.
For each vote awarded to one candidate, a representative for the other often objected on various grounds, from an overdue or missing postmark to an illegible signature to an improperly marked ballot to an unsealed envelope (which would allow tampering) to using the wrong color ink from the wrong writing instrument.
As the absentee ballots are reviewed, candidates know where the ballots come from and the party registration of the voter, but the ballots are still sealed and the actual vote is unknown.
While court hearings on absentee ballots are not unusual, the Orangetown supervisor’s race has been a bit different, with voters who filed absentee ballots called into court to testify. This week, the case left the Rockland County Courthouse in New City and went to the home of a voter so he could testify.
And, after Alfieri issues his ruling on the remaining ballots, it’s still possible that the losing side could go to a higher court to continue challenging the absentee ballots.
Stewart said after Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting that he remained cautiously optimistic he would be able to maintain his slim lead over Wettje. One outcome he is not looking forward to, Stewart said, is a tie vote.
Wettje has not appeared at any Town Board meeting since election night, although he has said he would stay in the fight over the ballot count to make certain the rights of the voters are upheld.
If Stewart is victorious and retains his seat for another two years, the Town Board will remain in Republican hands by the same 4-1 majority they enjoyed the past two years, since all four council members are Republicans. If Wettje pulls off his upset and is declared the winner, however, the board will be 5-0 Republican for the first time in decades.
Incumbent Republican Councilmen Denis Troy and Thomas Diviny both won new four-year terms easily last month, defeating Democratic challengers Annmarie Uhl and Dan Salmon by nearly 2,000 votes among nearly 12,000 cast.
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