WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democrat Bill Owens has already been sworn in as the newest member of Congress – and he even voted in the historic, narrow passage of healthcare reform last Saturday night.
But it turns out his election in that wild race in New York’s 23rd congressional district isn’t completely nailed down. Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman, who shot to fame after national conservatives adopted him as a cause célèbre, causing the Republican nominee to quit the race, still has an outside shot at victory.
During the routine recanvass in the days following the Nov. 3 election, errors in the vote count have narrowed Mr. Owens’s victory over Mr. Hoffman. The latest unofficial numbers show Owens with 68,963 votes, Hoffman with 65,787, and Dede Scozzafava, the Republican who dropped out, with 6,903 votes. That leaves Owens a lead of just 3,176 votes, not the 5,335-vote lead he had on Election Day.
According to Watertown Daily Times, which is located in the 23rd district and is following the recanvass closely, at least 7,178 absentee ballots have been turned in. By late Thursday afternoon, one of the 11 counties in that district, Hamilton, had yet to report how many absentee ballots it had. Federal and military absentee ballots have until Nov. 16 to be turned in.
As the numbers now stand, it will be difficult – but not impossible – for Hoffman to win enough of the absentee ballots to overturn the outcome. That’s usually the case in recount and recanvass situations. In this case, with a third candidate in the race, Scozzafava, it makes it that much harder for the second-place finisher to win. And given the fact that Scozzafava did not drop out until the weekend before the election, chances are she will garner a significant number of absentee votes. Before she dropped out, she was polling at about 20 percent.
But what happens if Hoffman is certified the ultimate winner by the New York State Board of Elections? That’s up to the House of Representatives. The board of elections will certify the result at its December board meeting.
“We’ll certify whatever the counties tell us is their numbers, and we’ll communicate that to the clerk of the House,” says John Conklin, spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections.
Broadly speaking, each house of Congress is in control of whom it admits to its membership. Hoffman conceded the election right away. So it was an easy call for the Democrats to swear in Owens, based on the election results reported by the board as of Nov. 5. But if Hoffman is certified as the winner, in all likelihood he would be allowed to take the seat.