July 1 marked the first day absentee ballots from last week’s primary election started being tabulated, but some frontrunners have already declared victory based on unofficial results.
Unofficial tallies released by both Nassau and Suffolk County boards of elections reflect ballots cast in person, but turnout averaged around 5.5 percent, according to election commissioners. Due to coronavirus, there was a significant increase in absentee ballots in the primaries. The question now is if candidates in the lead from in-person votes will maintain their frontrunner status after the paper ballots are counted, a process that could take weeks.
Historically, “the paper matches the machine,” James Scheuerman, the Nassau Democratic elections commissioner, told the Press.
Primary election participation has traditionally been low on Long Island, but turnout was higher this year due to the Democratic presidential primary, which former Vice President Joe Biden clinched in his bid to unseat Republican President Donald Trump. As of June 29, Scheuerman said 48,176 absentee ballots for the Democratic presidential primary had been received by the Nassau Board of Elections. In comparison, 34,278 ballots were cast at Nassau polls for the same race.
Candidates may have only 5 to 7 business days to wait until official results are released, Scheuerman estimates. State law mandates that absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received by June 30 to be counted. While Nassau and Suffolk elections boards have both invested in high-speed tabulators that can count up to 300 ballots per minute, Scheuerman says that the upcoming July 4 holiday could delay results.
Mail-in ballots also require additional processing to make sure there are no instances of double-voting, or a voter submitting both a mail-in ballot and voting at the polls.
In the much-watched first congressional district on the East End of LI, turnout in the 2018 Democratic primary nearly doubled that of 2016, jumping from 7.9 to 14 percent.
Candidates awaiting the final count are businessman Perry Gershon of East Setauket, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Southampton), Stony Brook University professor Nancy Goroff, and business strategist Gregory-John Fischer of Calverton.
“As we await the counting of votes, Democrats should be united in our need to support the primary’s winner over incumbent Lee Zeldin,” said Gershon, the primary frontrunner seeking a rematch of his 2018 race against the congressman.
In the second congressional district on the South Shore of Nassau and southwestern Suffolk, New York State Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino (R-Sayville) had enough of a significant lead over his opponent, Assemblyman Michael LiPetri (R-Massapequa), that Garbarino declared victory for the Republican line in the race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).
“I’m proud of this victory, and even more proud of our campaign,” Garbarino said. “However, this is just the beginning.”
Jesse Garcia, chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee, said that “the math is in our favor,” referring to historical trends that mail-in ballots match the results of in-person voting.
“We were very heartened to see that Andrew Garbarino had secured 65 percent of the vote,” he said, emphasizing that the committee is still waiting for official results.
In the Democratic primary to decide who will face the Republican in the second congressional district, candidate and attorney Patricia Maher also expressed the need to wait for official results, but questioned potential issues with the democratic process at the polls. Maher shared a story about a longtime voter whose name was initially not found on the roster. She persisted, and was finally allowed to vote.
Maher’s opponent, former Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon of Copiague, who declared victory on the night of the primaries, also expressed concern regarding the issue, vowing to resolve voting concerns before the November general election.
A representative for the Suffolk County Democratic Committee said the committee was also waiting for official results before declaring a winner. The Nassau County Democratic Committee did not respond to requests for comment.
In the third congressional district on the North Shore of Nassau, western Suffolk, and eastern Queens, progressive challenger Melanie D’Arrigo announced she was awaiting official results, despite incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) celebrating victory by planting a yellow magnolia tree in his yard and Michael Weinstock, another candidate, conceding the primary to Suozzi.
In the fourth congressional district representing south central Nassau from Mineola and Hicksville to Long Beach, Hempstead Town Commissioner of Engineering Douglas Tuman declared victory in the Republican primary over Woodmere activist Cindy Grosz, who has not commented. The winner will face U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City).
And in the fifth congressional district, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens), who represents a part of southwestern Nassau, maintained a commanding lead as his opponent Shaniyat Chowdhury kept his eye on official results. The district mostly falls under the jurisdiction of the New York City Board of Elections, where delays in reporting official numbers are expected.
Candidates in a handful of New York State legislative primary races maintain that patience is a virtue.
In the North Fork’s second state Assembly district’s Democratic primary, businessman William Schleisner of Sound Beach, who received 500 in-person votes to former Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smiths’ 1,732, criticized his opponent’s victory declaration as disrespectful to voters and the democratic process.
“I am disappointed that my opponent took the opportunity to declare victory despite 80 percent of the electorate having not yet had their votes counted,” he said, asking Jens-Smith to rescind her declaration and emphasizing the need for patience. “It’s incredibly disrespectful to the voters who are putting their trust in absentee voting.”
Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio is running on the Republican line in that race in which the winner will replace state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), who is vying for the seat held by retiring state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) in the first state Senate district on the East End.
Competition was also fierce for five Democratic candidates vying to replace LaValle. Parents For Megan’s Law Executive Director Laura Ahearn of Port Jefferson said she was happy to be in the lead with 240 votes from the in-person vote, but the candidates are still awaiting final results with 18,000 mail-in votes to be counted in the race.
Rounding out that primary are Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni (D-North Haven), Suffolk County Community College political science student Skyler Johnson of Mt. Sinai, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), and Nora Higgins, a Public Employees Federation regional coordinator from Ridge.
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