By Tom Precious
KINGSTON -– Perhaps it is fitting that New York state’s first capital -– this historic community located along the Hudson River -– will decide the fate of which political party come January will control the State Senate.
With about 4,200 absentee and affidavit votes of Ulster County residents to be counted over the next couple days, all political eyes in New York will be focused on Kingston -– and the two cramped, widowless rooms at the county’s election board on Wall Street.
So far this morning, Democrats say they have chipped away at Republican George Amedore’s 918-vote lead after votes in four other counties were completed over the Thanksgiving weekend.
But Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk has much ground to make up, though the Albany-area political newcomer was picking up a considerable amount of votes being counted this morning from residents of the city of Kingston (a community burned by the British during the Revolutionary War).
Democrats say vote counting from this morning saw Tkaczyk pick up about 100 votes from Amedore’s lead. If Republicans were worried, their election lawyers and Senate staff members on hand weren’t showing it. [Republicans say Amedore's lead was cut by about 80 votes during the morning count.] The veteran crew of lawyers on both sides -– some who have squared off against each other for 30 years -– realize there is still much paperwork to go through from surrounding, more rural communities before a final round of contested ballots goes before a state judge later this week.
But if Tkaczyk is to catch up to Amedore, today will be a crucial day for both sides. The Democrat won about 60 percent of the ballots on election day, but Republicans have long been known for running strong absentee get-out-the-vote efforts.
Tom Turco, the Ulster County GOP elections board commissioner, said about 3,500 absentee and 700 affidavit ballots will be counted over the next couple days. He said the sides hope to get through half the ballots today -– a tedious process that begins with every envelope examined for possible election law violations and ends with a count of the uncontested ballots. So far this morning, few absentee ballots were challenged, though both sides raised questions about affidavit ballots -– from missing names to incorrect voting addresses.
Why is this important? The winner will determine control of the Senate, on paper anyway.
If Amedore wins, the Republicans will have the votes -– thanks to the recent flip by a newly elected Brooklyn Democrat who says he will caucus with the GOP -– to continue its generations-long domination of the Senate. If Amedore loses, Democrats will have the votes to control the Senate, but not without the help of four breakaway Democrats who have not ruled out joining with the Republicans in some sort of coalition-type effort that would help keep the GOP at least in partial power.
The election lawyers here -– a contingent of Republicans and Democrats who have, as legislative staffers, even helped write many of the state’s election law provisions over the decades -– did their jobs this morning among back-and-forth banter about the small size of the table, their kids, and having to feed parking meters down the street. Paper ballots filled boxes that covered tables surrounding the team of lawyers and election board officials going through the routine of counting paper ballots today from the city and town of Kingston and the towns of Esopus, Hurley and Lloyd.
Sixty miles up the Thruway in Albany, GOP and Democratic operatives were spinning a similar theme -- confidence -– that only one side will get to retain in the coming days.
For the election lawyers, including Republican Jeff Buley and Democrat Josh Ehrlich, the 46th Senate ballot-counting exercise has taken them over the past week to five counties in the sprawling new Senate district from Montgomery County more than an hour west of Albany to Kingston, about an hour south of the state Capitol.