12/01/10 2:40pm
12/01/2010 2:40 PM



Randy Altschuler



With Republican Dan Losquadro declared the winner in the state’s 1st Assembly District race, the prolonged battle between Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop and his Republican challenger, businessman Randy Altschuler, remains the only undecided race in the region. And the last undecided congressional race in the country.

At last report Thursday, Mr. Bishop was leading Mr. Altschuler by 259 votes.

The race will likely be decided by a state Supreme Court judge who arrived at the Board of Elections in Yaphank about 3 p.m. Wednesday to start making calls on contested absentee ballots sent to the district by mail.

Some 71 military ballots, which had to be in officials’ hands by Nov. 24, were counted Tuesday, which narrowed Mr. Bishop’s lead over Mr. Altschuler’s by 20 votes. The candidates’ camps then agreed to concede a total of 418 previously contested absentee ballots — 209 each — and that ended up adding 32 votes to Mr. Bishop’s lead, according to the incumbent’s spokesman, Jon Schneider. Mr. Bishop then picked up an additional 12 votes after the judge made his first ruling Wednesday, allowing 161 paper ballots that for various reasons weren’t scanned on Election Day to count in the race.

Both sides have had a roller coaster ride since election night, when preliminary tallies had Mr. Bishop up by about 3,500 votes. Then a re-canvassing of the optical voting machines, used for the first time in a Suffolk County general election, put him behind his challenger by 383 votes. But Mr. Altschuler watched that lead vanish after the week-long process of counting some 11,500 absentee and affidavit ballots wrapped up last Tuesday, leaving Mr. Bishop up by 235.
Both camps agreed Thursday to allow an additional 52 ballots be counted, 29 that were being contested by Mr. Bishop and 23 by Mr. Altschuler.
Of the 1,473 still-contested ballots that were awaiting the judge’s review, 1,123 were being challenged by the Republican side and 510 by the Democrats.

A required audit of 3 percent of voting machines has revealed no problems with the equipment, officials said.

And while Mr. Bishop appeared ready to declare victory, the rival camp’s suspicions of voter fraud have prompted Republicans to stay and fight — leaving the outcome up to the judge and the court system.

Rob Ryan, Mr. Altschuler’s campaign spokesman, said the courts have subpoena power to require that a voter prove his or her residency in the district, something Board of Elections commissioners can’t do.

Mr. Ryan estimated Mr. Bishop’s lead to actually be closer to 150 votes, considering the Democrats have challenged the votes of some 94 Republican poll inspectors who voted outside the district.

“We should get them back,” Mr. Ryan said of those votes, adding that he expected to see “a lot of contested ballots” end up in the hands of the judge.
He said that, above all, Mr. Altschuler wants to be sure that only the votes of people who can legally vote in the district are counted.

“The Bishop campaign put out their stuff yesterday saying they wanting to close things down,” Mr. Ryan said. “But two short weeks ago [when Mr. Bishop appeared down], they were calling for a hand recount of every single ballot. And now for some reason they don’t want to wait until this residency issue is dealt with, and the possibility of widespread fraud.”

Potential voter fraud was outlined by FoxNews.com writer Eric Shawn in a report earlier this week. According to the FoxNews story, 48 of the 438 absentee ballot voters “reviewed” by the Fox News Voter Fraud Unit were cast via absentee ballot in Suffolk by people who “are also listed as ‘active’ voters on the New York City rolls. Being registered in two separate jurisdictions is illegal and is a felony in New York State.

“In addition, our investigation reveals that one absentee ballot was apparently submitted in the name of a Democratic voter enrolled in Suffolk County, while election records at the Board of Elections in New York City show that the same voter voted, on Election Day, in Manhattan.”

The story did not name the voter in question. Mr. Altschuler’s campaign circulated the FoxNews report by e-mail Tuesday.

Mr. Bishop’s spokesman called the fraud allegations “nonsense.”

“We’re not saying Altschuler should concede,” he said. “We’re just saying let’s open the ballots and count the votes,” Mr. Schneider said. “And this FoxNews thing is nonsense. Great, you found one guy who voted twice, but let’s move on. Show me two, show me 10, show me 50 who voted twice.”
He said that no votes had been counted on Thursday, and that the judge wouldn’t be back to the Board of Elections until Wednesday, “so there goes another week.”

“I’m sure there’s not going to be any movement unless they start dropping [contested] ballots,” he added. “We want to all get on with our lives. I’m not worried about the outcome of this election; I’m worried that I’m going to be here on Christmas.”

Mr. Bishop, of Southampton, is seeking his fifth two-year term in office. No 1st District congressman since Otis Pike of Riverhead, a Democrat, has served more than four terms. Mr. Pike served nine terms before retiring in 1978.

As for the state Assembly race, which dragged on exactly three weeks after Election Day Nov. 2, Democrat Marc Alessi conceded to Mr. Losquadro last Wednesday after it appeared he could not make up the more than 800 votes by which he trailed. Both men are residents of Shoreham.

“It has been an absolute privilege to serve the residents of the First Assembly District over the past five years,” Mr. Alessi said in a statement sent just after 4 p.m. last Wednesday. “I’ve taken the state’s problems home with me, internalized them and tried to help — both on the large scale and individually — one constituent at a time.”

In his statement, Mr. Alessi blamed Albany dysfunction for his loss and touted his record in office.

“For five years, I worked tirelessly for the hardworking families of Suffolk and kept my pledges to the people who elected me. I will forever be proud of that,” he said. “While I accomplished much of what I set out to do for Suffolk, there is still more work to be done.”
The attorney said he would focus on his family, as his wife, Gretchen, is expecting the couple’s third child in January.

The two candidates were separated by just 40 votes on election night but Mr. Losquadro increased his lead after election night results were verified and corrected and also during the absentee ballot count.

Mr. Losquadro’s win sets up a special election to finish out the final year of his term in the county Legislature, where he serves as minority leader. Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner has been reported as a possible Republican/Conservative nominee to replace Mr. Losquadro, whom she served four years as a legislative aide before seeking her first public office in 2007.

A source in the Democratic Party did not rule out the possibility of Mr. Alessi pursuing the county seat.

The third local race this year was not a close one, with longtime incumbent Republican state Senator Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson trouncing Democratic challenger Jennifer Maertz of Rocky Point, taking 67 percent of the vote.

mwhite@timesreview.com