Final NY House race still not called as COVID outbreak further complicates matters

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This New York congressional race just wont end.

Court proceedings in the still uncalled race for upstate’s 22nd district — pitting Republican Claudia Tenney against Democratic incumbent Rep. Anthony Brindisi — began Monday afternoon, but with an added complication: the entire Oneida County board of elections office may have been exposed to COVID-19. 

On Monday morning, an Oneida County attorney wrote to Oswego County State Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte — the judge charged with hearing oral arguments between the two campaigns today who must decide whether or not a recount or recanvassing is warranted — that a BOE worker tested positive for the virus on Sunday.

“The employee worked on Friday, so it is probable that all employees at the Board of Elections were exposed,” explained Robert Pronteau, an assistant attorney, in a letter ahead of DelConte’s 1 o’clock hearing.

Oneida is also one of the largest counties in the district.

“We are in the process of assessing the situation with our Health Department and the New York DOH, and are working to determine our next steps. We hope to have more information to share with the court,” he added. 

Right now, Tenney leads Brindisi by a razor thin, 12-vote lead.

But no winner has been determined — although it’s been over a month since election day — making the 22nd district the Empire State’s only race awaiting official certification from the state Board of Elections.

Tenney has clinched 155,492 votes to Brindisi’s 155,480, according to unofficial vote tallies by the district’s eight upstate counties. 

Libertarian candidate Keith Price has claimed 6,755 votes.

Tenney was ahead by over 28,000 votes on election night, but that advantage slipped drastically as absentee ballots opened days later tipped in Brindisi’s favor.

Since then, both the Tenney and Brindisi campaigns have met in court as state law does not automatically trigger a recount despite the close margin. 

Justice DelConte has played referee in the last month’s number of tense court proceedings, and issues like determining what to do with votes cast by the dead, another previous COVID-19 office outbreak, sticky notes attached to ballots and the discovery of new, previously uncounted ballots.

He is charged with ruling over the fate of 1,500 total ballots.

During Monday’s proceedings, Tenney’s lawyers argued the race’s results should be certified immediately as there are too many problems to sort through. This would confirm her slim lead. 

But Brindisi’s team instead argued a limited recount should occur, highlighting several errors made by the BOE  and zeroing in on a number of affidavit ballots previously discarded.

DelConte criticized both approaches. 

“None of the lawyers here want to win a lawsuit, they want to win an election,” he said, according to Syracuse.com. “But the role of the court here, as I see it, is to make sure that everyone follows the law.”

Del Conte’s decision was still pending as of 6 p.m. Monday. Whatever the judge decides, the prospect of a full or partial recount looms.

The coronavirus outbreak in Oneida county could also complicate future recounting efforts, should officials be placed under quarantine. The state Department of Health did not return a request for update on the matter.

Both campaigns declined to comment.

The race is a fiery rematch from 2018, as Brindisi ousted then-freshman Rep. Tenney from her seat.

The district has more registered Republican voters compared to Democrats, and President Trump endorsed Tenney in both 2018 and 2020. 

The 22nd district stretches from the city of Binghamton in the Southern Tier, through central New York and then north to the Canadian border.

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