Harckham and Astorino

Democratic incumbent Sen. Pete Harckham is trailing Republican challenger Rob Astorino for the District 40 seat prior to the start of counting absentee ballots. 

The race for New York’s 40th Senate District hangs in the balance as tens of thousands of absentee ballots await counting across Westchester, Dutchess and Putnam counties.

Currently, Rob Astorino, the Republican challenger, has a lead of 8,046 votes over Democratic incumbent state Sen. Peter Harckham. This district includes the towns of Lewisboro and Pound Ridge.

In New York, mail-in absentee ballots may be received up to seven days after the election, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. So, the Board of Elections didn’t even receive all its absentee ballots until this Tuesday, Nov. 10.

The timeline for counting these ballots has now been pushed back due to dozens of legal actions asking courts in New York to intercede in any ballot disputes. Election officials in Westchester said absentee ballot counting won’t begin until Wednesday, Nov. 18, and warned that date is still tentative.

Even with so many absentee ballots still not tabulated, many local elections have already declared a winner. In those races, the margins enjoyed by the current leading candidates are seen as large enough to withstand any future ballot count.

In two local races, the contests for New York state Assembly in the 93rd District and the 37th Senate District, that is exactly the case. Bedford Town Supervisor Chris Burdick and incumbent state Sen. Shelley Mayer have declared themselves winners, respectively, in these two races. Ms. Mayer’s district includes the Town of Bedford.

The situation in the race between Mr. Harckham and Mr. Astorino is less clear.

Various media outlets and each candidate’s campaign have reported differing estimates of the number of outstanding absentee ballots that have yet to be counted in this race, although all agree the total tops 30,000 and could easily change the outcome. 

Thomas Staudter, communications director for Mr. Harckham, told The Record-Review this week there were approximately 35,500 absentee ballots to be counted, representing 22% of the total vote. Mr. Staudter said the majority of those absentee ballots — approximately 20,000 — are from Democratic registered voters. Most come from Westchester County, which carried Mr. Harckham to a victory in 2018. He also added that roughly 15% of the ballots belong to voters 18 to 25 years old. Since these demographics overwhelmingly favor Mr. Harckham, Mr. Staudter concluded, “it means that there’s a good chance we’re going to win.”

However, it will take longer than expected to find out for certain. As first reported in the New York Post and confirmed this week by Mr. Harckham, at least 26 lawsuits have been filed across New York state asking the courts to supervise any disputes in counting many of the 1.5 million absentee ballots returned statewide. The contest for SD 40 is among those in which litigation was filed for potential court intervention.

According to the Harckham campaign, Mr. Astorino and the Republican Party are behind these legal challenges, as well as tens of thousands of Freedom of Information Act requests.

“Ongoing efforts by the state Republican party to delay the counting of absentee ballots through spurious legal challenges, including FOIL requests and questioning the premise of online ballot applications, are shameful ploys meant to disenfranchise voters and delegitimize the eventual result of the election — it’s as simple as that,” Mr. Harckham wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday, Nov. 10. 

He alleged these actions were taken because “the Republicans are scared they will lose —and are busy now questioning the entire voting process.”

Officials with the various county Board of Elections have not reported any voter fraud or problems with absentee ballots in the District 40 race. 

In a statement sent to The Record-Review, William O’Reilly, spokesperson for the Astorino campaign, said, “What’s happening now is standard operating procedure in any close New York race.”

“The process of counting absentee ballots in New York is arduous but protecting the integrity of the vote is worth the extra time. In virtually all New York races that come down to absentees, attorneys from both sides are employed to ensure a fair count. That’s what’s happening now — it’s how the democratic process properly works.”

According to election officials, absentee ballots will start being counted in Dutchess County today, Friday, Nov. 13, and in Putnam County early next week.

According to results posted on the Westchester Board of Elections website, Ms. Mayer leads her Republican opponent, Liviu Saimovici, by a margin of 58% to 42%. She has 63,860 votes to her opponent’s 46,627 votes.

Mr. Burdick has 30,643 votes, or 61% of the total votes tallied, while his Republican opponent, John Nuculovic, has 19,486 votes, or 39%.

Jackie covers town government, business, culture, and community happenings in Pound Ridge, as well as the Bedford Central School District. You can send tips and dog photos to her at jroman@record-review.com

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