Thursday, March 5, 2009

Recount in 32nd Council Special Election

By Patricia Adams

For anyone wondering just how long it will take for Eric Ulrich to begin his role as the new Councilmember of the 32nd District, the answer seems to be still a couple of weeks away. Although preliminary counts show Ulrich as a clear victor, a re-canvassing of approximately 100 voting machines took place on Monday March 2 and was completed by Tuesday.

Ulrich’s closest opponent in the race, Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, who was behind in the original counts by roughly 1,000 votes, still has hopes that a recount will find him at the top of the heap. In fact a call to his office will transfer you by automated attendant to Mr. Simon, who has left behind the following recorded announcement: “I want to thank everyone who came out and voted. The election is still not over so please keep us in your prayers. The election is still not over.”

In an interview with Simon, the district leader has acknowledged that he has not conceded the race because many times things are discovered in the recanvassing process that can turn the direction of things. “Many times, during the mandatory recount,” Simon says things are not done or recorded properly. “We are still awaiting a total count of paper ballots and we are very proud of the showing that we made.”

Monday, Simon says he sent a team of observers to watch over the recanvassing process, which allows for observation by the public, as well as representatives sent by involved candidates. The process is overseen by equal representation from both the Democratic and the Republican parties.

Although there was much banter and speculation as to whether it was Simon who demanded the recount or Ulrich himself served papers for the recanvassing to take place, the fact of the matter is that the recounting of the machines is standard procedure in every election.

According to the Board of Elections, “the preliminary election “results” reported on election night are just that - preliminary.” Valerie Vasquez, the Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the NYC Board of Elections, explained that the process that began on Monday is nothing unusual.

Vasquez says that an election is not certified and no winner is officially declared until every vote is counted. Included in those votes would be a re –canvassing of each machine, and a count of all paper ballots, including those from the military, absentee voters, and handicapped voters. New York State Election law mandates the vote counts before the election results can be certified as the “official” count.

The way the procedure works is that, following the close of polling sites on any election day at 9:00 p.m., the preliminary election results are produced. This is accomplished by poll workers from major parties, Democrat and Republican, opening the machines and manually recording the results for each machine on their tally sheets. The New York City Police Department collects the materials containing these results, compiles them, and enters the information into its computer system for tabulation.

How It Works

After the polls close on election night, poll workers transcribe the number of votes for each candidate from the face of the voting machines onto “Return of Canvass” forms. These poll workers then hand the “Return of Canvass” sheets to the police officer assigned to the polling location. All candidates and members of their respective campaigns are permitted by law to assign poll watchers to observe the poll workers and to record the preliminary results onto their own tally sheets as they are read off by the poll workers.

Once collected, the police officer delivers the “Return of Canvass” sheet to the police precinct. At the police precinct the results are transcribed into its computer system. The computer records are then transmitted to the Associated Press and a copy of each “Return of Canvass” form is delivered to the Associated Press office at 55 Washington Street in Brooklyn. The Associated Press then shares the preliminary results with its colleagues in the news media. These preliminary results, however, do not include the count of any of the varied types of paper ballots.

New York State has one of the most meticulous recanvassing procedures in the country. State Election Law requires the Board of Elections to recanvass every voting machine used in an election within 15 days of the election.

During this process, bipartisan teams of Board of Elections employees record the results for tabulation. As an extra layer of oversight, representatives of all campaigns involved in a particular election are notified of the recanvassing schedule and are invited to monitor the official recanvassing and ensure its accuracy. The absentee and affidavit ballots are then opened and tabulated after staff review. The campaigns are once again invited to monitor the opening and counting of these paper ballots.

Subsequent to the recanvassing the Board of Elections certifies the election result pursuant to and in accordance with the procedures set forth in the applicable portions of New York State Election Law.

Ulrich, who has already made several trips to City Hall, has been involved in meeting with Speaker Christine Quinn and other colleagues. Insiders say it is a little frustrating that he has been given all the paperwork to locate his district offices and put his staff in place but that all that activity is frozen until the election commissioners meet and certify the election officially.

Initial raw data collected from returns show that Ulrich carried all but one polling site on the mainland and that Simon carried the peninsula for the most part. Ulrich’s victory on the mainland amounted to about 64%.

According to campaign spokesman for Ulrich, Bart Haggerty, the results from Monday’s recanvassing efforts were as follows: Ulrich: 3,424; Simon: 2,472; Chapey: 897; and Ricatto: 664

Additional information suggests that there are no more than approximately 300 valid paper ballots which would still have Lew Simon falling far short of what he would need to capture the victory from Ulrich even if he were to take 100% of the paper ballots. Officials say that the paper should be counted by tomorrow, however according to Valerie Velesquez the earliest the Commissioners will certify the election could be as late as March 17th.

Eric Ulrich says he just wants to get on with the business of getting about his work in City Hall and throughout the community. “I think that people deserve representation and that they deserve it now. It is clear that the people have chosen me to be their next city councilman and I will be ready to serve on day one, “Ulrich says. “Paperwork can’t be signed until the commissioners officially certify the election. I hope it will be soon.”

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