The counting of absentee and affidavit ballots is now over in the first congressional district, and Republican candidate Randy Altschuler has issued challenges to every single one of the 31 eligible affidavit ballots cast by Stony Brook University students on Election Day.
Even without the 31 votes, Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop finished the day ahead by 235 votes over Altschuler, according to Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider.
The result is far from official however, and dozens of other outstanding ballots are still up for grabs. 71 ballots cast by military personnel have yet to be counted, as well as 162 ballots that were not fed through the optical scanner machines on election night.
But the Bishop campaign sounded confident their lead would be sufficient and even grow as challenged ballots are folded back into the official tally after a judge reexamines them.
“[The Altschuler campaign] have challenged 471 more voters,” said Schneider on Tuesday afternoon.
Included among those challenges are all 31 eligible affidavit ballots cast by students at Stony Brook University.
Awarding affidavit ballots to either candidate is a two-step process. Before they are even counted, the Suffolk County Board of Elections determines whether or not the voter is eligible to vote in the district. A total of 67 students voted affidavit at Stony Brook on November 2, but the Board of Elections ruled that 36 of those were ineligible. The remaining 31 ballots were placed back into the pool of outstanding ballots, where the Altschuler team issued challenges on all of them.
It’s unclear how many of those votes were for Bishop, but the Democrat won about 87% of the total vote on campus on Election Day.
Challenging students’ votes is not new for Long Island Republicans. Two years ago, State Senator John Flanagan accused the president of the Stony Brook College Democrats of voter fraud, pointing to residency issues as reason why they should not be allowed to vote using dormitory addresses.
“They can allege that students were not entitled to vote,” said Ted Debowy, a lawyer with the New York Democratic Lawyers Council. “But that’s going to have to go before the commissioners.”
Challenges are brought before the two Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioners, Anita Katz and Wayne Rogers. If they cannot agree on whether a challenge is valid or not, the ballot is handed off to a judge who makes the final determination.
Legal precedent is on the side of students. Numerous lawsuits challenging the residency status of college students who live away from home during the academic year have found that so long as they register in the appropriate time frame, students are allowed to vote in the district where they attend school.
The flimsy foundation of these challenges is another good sign for Tim Bishop, argues campaign spokesman John Schneider.
“The fact that they challenged every single student on campus shows they’re making less well thought out objections and more blanket challenges,” said Schneider.
Rob Ryan, a spokesman for the Altschuler campaign, would not comment on the challenges.
“At this moment, we are not commenting on any of those ballots,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
Altschuler’s camp is running out of options as Bishop’s lead grows and the number of outstanding ballots diminishes. On Tuesday evening, lawyers with the Altschuler campaign met to discuss possible legal next steps, according to Ryan.
UPDATE: Geoff Boehm, the Program Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group sent out a press statement in response to our coverage of Altschuler’s challenges. Here’s the full text of that release:
According to media reports, the Altschuler campaign has unilaterally challenged all affidavit ballots cast by student residents of SUNY Stony Brook. NYPIRG condemns this decision. Students have a long-standing legal right to register and vote from their campus residences. Students are vital members of their community, show and work in the area, and are counted in the federal census as residents of the college.
Unless the campaign has reasons to question the eligibility of specific voters, they should withdraw this discriminatory challenge.”
NYPIRG is a statewide non-partisan student-directed advocacy organization with chapters on 20 college campuses, including SUNY Stony Brook. We help thousands of students to register to vote every year.