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Outcome of Brindisi/Tenney Race in Upstate N.Y. Still Far From Certain

December 3, 2020 by Daniel Londono
Claudia Tenney (left) and Anthony Brindisi (right) (Associated Press)

To those who felt their lives were just a little bit emptier after a canvassing board in Iowa certified the results in that state’s 2nd Congressional District, declaring a winner in a race in which the candidates were separated by only six votes: we introduce you to New York’s 22nd Congressional District.

Long a hard-fought swing district running from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border, it is now home to the last remaining congressional district that remains too close to call in the 2020 election.

After all the votes were counted in the race between incumbent Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi and Republican Claudia Tenney, only 12 votes separated them with Tenney in the lead.

Then chaos ensued.

Late last month, state Supreme Court Justice Scott J. DelConte called a hearing to determine the fate of disputed ballots, of which there were enough to potentially sway the election one way or another.

DelConte directed each of the eight counties in the district to securely deliver hundreds of disputed absentee and affidavit ballots to his courtroom today, hoping to set in motion a smooth process for determining who ultimately wins the election.

Appearing via an online video conference, Oneida County election commissioners Rose Grimaldi and Carolanne Cardone explained that 39 absentee ballots in their jurisdiction were disputed for reasons ranging from a lack of timestamps to having the same signature on multiple ballots.

But as they spoke, DelConte noticed confusion among the candidates’ attorneys; it turned out, they couldn’t make heads or tails of how they were organized.

Hoping to be helpful, Grimaldi and Cardone explained that sticky notes were supposed to be attached to each of the disputed ballots, explaining which candidate challenged the ballot, the basis of the challenge, and whether they were ultimately included in the overall count.

The problem? At some point on their way to DelConte’s courtroom, several of the sticky notes had fallen off.

Pressing ahead, DelConte asked Cardone how to determine whether a ballot was counted and whether it was contested.

“You can’t,” she said, according to Josh Rosenblatt, of WBNG-TV in Binghamton, N.Y., and other reports published after the hearing.

Both Grimaldi and Cardone then admitted they hadn’t a clue why the sticky notes fell off some ballots and not others.

DelConte grimaced.

“Then we have a serious problem on our hands,” he said.

Within hours, the local media had dubbed the crisis “StickyGate.”

But wait shoppers, there’s more.

A few days after the hearing, which ended on an inconclusive note, the Chenango County Board of Elections announced that 55 in-person ballots that had been somehow “mislaid” and never counted, were found by election workers.

According to multiple published reports, 11 of those ballots were deemed to be invalid because the voters weren’t registered. Of the 44 ballots that remained, the majority appeared to have been cast by Republicans, giving Tenney the edge.

The latest turn of events means the race — already the second closest House contest in the nation —could still be weeks away from a decision, with the most likely outcome being court intervention followed by a lengthy recount.

Both campaigns have released statements saying they expect to win the race.

On Wednesday, lawyers for both sides filed motions to show cause, laying out the next steps they hope DelConte will take.

Tenney’s legal team wants the judge to order the eight counties in the district to certify the election results as they stand, effectively declaring her the victor.

Their main argument appears to be that because so many different errors were made by local boards of election — and there’s no clear way to fix all of them – there’s no way the court has jurisdiction to rule over them.

Brindisi’s lengthy legal filings ask DelConte to have each of the counties do a partial recanvass of the ballots. In effect, asking that the sticky note crisis and other problems with the handling of the election be resolved before anything else is decided about the race.

Like Tenney, he acknowledges mistakes were made by the boards of election, but insists every effort should be made to fix them. His lawyers also lay out a fairly comprehensive process for fixing one of them, including the sticky-note problem.

His filing also asked that the found Chenango County ballots be counted.

Counter agreements from each side are scheduled to be filed by Thursday evening.

The next in-person court appearance is set for Monday, Dec. 7.

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