Colby Hamilton, Writer, WNYC News
Colby Hamilton is a general assignment reporter. He originally joined WNYC as a political blogger. He's a proud graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
The contest between Republican David Storobin and Democratic City Councilman Lew Fidler—now more than two weeks after the March 20 special election to fill the seat vacated by disgraced former state Senator Carl Kruger—got both a little closer and a little further away from a final resolution on Wednesday. Lawyers from both campaigns, as well as from the Board of Elections, huddled with state Supreme Court judge David Schmidt to hammer out the next steps now that a panel of judges has suggested which of the contested absentee and other paper ballots should be counted.
As it stands, the Storobin campaign hangs on to a razor thin three-vote lead. The panel of judges, who were assigned by the court as special referees, looked at more than 210 ballots the campaigns argued should be invalidated for one reason or another.
Out of the 164 ballots the Storobin campaign objected to, 143 of them were ruled valid. Of the 54 Fidler-initiated objections, 35 were overturned by the judges, who said they should be counted.
Assuming the opposing campaigns were looking to take votes away from their opponents, the suggestions the referee judges made to the court are good news for the Fidler campaign. The ballots reviewed by the referee judges have not been officially counted.
But—of course—that’s not where things end. Both campaigns are also pushing to get large chunks of ballots invalidated on different grounds.
The Storobin campaign wants the Board of Elections to provide supporting documents for 50 or more voters who were given permanent absentee ballot status, in the hopes of showing this was done in error—that they should have been going to the polls on their own volition and, thus, should have their absentee ballots invalidated. The BoE’s lawyers said they felt that was impossible because the documentation was no longer available and likely permanently destroyed.
Fidler’s lawyers are asking for information for dozens of absentee ballots collected by Alla Pometko, who they alleged may have committed voter fraud. Pometko, they say, asked for nearly 180 absentee ballots from the board, but only returned 119, raising questions about what she did with the other 65 or so.
More seriously, they say, out of that 119 absentee ballots submitted on behalf of voters, 16 of those voters actually went to the polls on Election Day. The Fidler lawyers are suggesting that there may have been an intentional attempt by Pometko to commit voter fraud, and might seek in the next hearing on April 11 to have all of the Pometko-submitted absentee ballots invalidated.
Even after next Wednesday’s hearing, the final results in a race for a district that will cease to exist at the end of this year will be unknown. State law stipulates that an election where the results are within .05 percent, a full hand recount of all the valid ballots must take place.
According to former state Senator Martin Connor, who represents the Fidler campaign in this case, “given the margins we’re looking at…it’s almost certain that it’ll have to be hand counted.”