Ulster Board of Elections Rushes to Decide Close Races

By Nicholas Califra

The Ulster County Board of Elections hopes to finish counting absentee and affidavit ballots by November 26. The absentee and affidavit ballots will help determine the winner of two key Ulster County elections.

Republican Michael Kavanagh leads Democrat David Clegg by just three votes in the race for District Attorney in Ulster County, while John C. Egan Jr. leads Michael C. Lynch in the race for Supreme Court Justice of the third judicial district of New York with 167,887 votes compared to 165,297 votes. 

New York’s 3rd judicial district is comprised of Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster Counties.

The Ulster County Board of Elections will begin counting the 428 affidavit and 2,399 absentee ballots they have in their possession on Monday, Nov. 18 to help determine the winners of both races. The Ulster County Board of Elections will send their tally of the Supreme Court Justice race of the third judicial district to the New York State Board of Elections so the number can be included with the other counties that voted in the election.

“We hope to have this done by Nov. 26,” said Ulster County Board of Elections Commissioner Ashley Dittus. “Then we will see how close the race is.”

Dittus went on to explain the process if a recount is needed. 

“There is an active court order present filed by Michael Kavanagh to dictate terms of this paper canvass and the judge presiding over this case is Supreme Court Justice McNally,” Dittus said. “If the end result is still within .5% we will do a full re-canvass of all ballots; absentee, affidavit and those 50,000 plus ballots cast during early voting and on election day at our poll sites.”

“In my 22 years this is the closest a county-wide race has been after election day,” said Ulster County Board of Elections Commissioner Thomas Turco speaking on the close District Attorney race between Kavanagh and Clegg.

The close nature of the District Attorney and Supreme Court Justice race bring up memories of previous close Ulster County elections, including a close New York State Senate race between George Amedore and Cecilia Tkacyzk. Tkacyzk won by 18 votes after absentee and affidavit ballots were counted. 

“There was a town of Plattekill justice race that actually ended in a tie,” Turco said. When the result is a tie there is a “failure to elect” which means the winner is determined by the board of the municipality the election is taking place in.

The closeness of the District Attorney and Supreme Court Justice races and the low voter turnout brings up the importance of voting in local elections. This years voter turnout in Ulster County is expected to be about 50%, compared to the 70% voter turnout in last year’s mid-term elections and an expected 85-90% voter turnout in next year’s presidential election, according to Dittus.

“Local elections matter as much as the state and federal contests and continued voter apathy in local contests is a problem not only in Ulster County but nationwide,” Dittus said. “When we have elections that fall within a three vote margin that turnout information is all the more regrettable. Voters, by the numbers, seem to care less about the instruments who enforce laws and more about the law makers who make those rules in the abstract. Both are important positions to vote for, they work hand in hand.”

Dittus went on to speak of the time consuming and economic factors that will take effect at the Ulster County Board of Elections if a recount is needed. 

“The Ulster County Board of Elections has 12 full time employees, counting over 50,000 ballots will require us to hire part time staff to help complete that process,” Dittus said. “If results do not change after the paper canvass and we have to do the full recount we may not have it done by January 1, 2020 when the DA is set to be sworn into office if we do not get the funding to do so.”