As absentee ballots are counted and the results of the 1st Congressional District race will soon be certified, local Democrats have found a silver lining in a loss that saw their candidate receive dramatically more support than in the two most recent elections.
In Southold Town, the results were so close that it won’t be clear which candidate received the majority vote here until all absentee ballots have been counted. The preliminary results show Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who secured a third term in office, with just lead of just 181 votes over Democratic challenger Perry Gershon in Southold, a historically Republican town. There remain 288 outstanding absentee ballots in Southold, 91 of which were sent to registered Republican or Conservative voters.
“While we didn’t get the win we wanted, I think we’re seeing change,” said Southold Town Democratic Committee chair Kathryn Casey Quigley.
An analysis of voting results at all 41 election districts across Southold and Riverhead towns shows increased support for the Democratic candidate at 39 of them, including all 19 in Southold.
Two Southold election districts — one in Greenport, the other in Southold hamlet — where a majority of voters supported both Mr. Zeldin and President Donald Trump in 2016, voted this time for Mr. Gershon. The same scenario played out in Riverhead in a district that runs between Roanoke and Ostrander avenues south of Route 58 and another that includes the subdivisions around Sound Avenue east of Roanoke Avenue.
A look at the election district map shows Mr. Gershon winning all but one election district in the eastern portion of Southold Town, with East Marion residents once again supporting Mr. Zeldin. Democrats also saw gains of more than 8 percent in election districts in Mattituck, Southold and Peconic that still went red.
In total, Mr. Gershon won seven of Southold’s 19 election districts outright, but received more than 60 percent of the vote in five districts in Greenport, Orient and Fishers Island to keep things close.
While nearly 1,000 fewer Southold voters showed up at the polls for this midterm than for the last presidential race, Mr. Gershon received 171 more votes than Democratic challenger Anna Throne-Holst did two years ago and 1,250 more votes than former Democratic congressman Tim Bishop got in the previous midterm.
Ms. Casey Quigley said that although voter turnout was historically high across the entire 1st Congressional District this year, in Southold, where turnout is consistently above the district average, the increase in turnout over the 2014 midterm was only about 2 percent.
“Yet the numbers for the Democratic candidate were so much stronger than in 2014,” she said.
Speaking on election night, Southold Town Republican Committee chair Peter McGreevy acknowledged that the election was tighter than in recent years, but said it still shows a majority of Southold voters support Mr. Zeldin and the president’s policies.
“It was a closer race than in the past,” Mr. McGreevy said. “The opposition brought their ‘A game’ to the field, as did we, but we’re very happy that Lee was victorious. It just goes to show that the people of Southold and the people of Congressional District One in New York are supportive of Lee, they’re supportive of the president’s policies and they apparently continue to be so.”
But Ms. Casey Quigley pointed to the performance of other Republican candidates as a sign that Mr. Zeldin’s popularity is on a steeper decline in Southold. Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) received nearly 550 more votes in Southold than Mr. Zeldin and state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) received nearly 900 more votes than the congressman in an election that saw him win handily, but by his slimmest margin of victory in 40 years.
“I think we saw weakening support for Republicans and even more weakened support for Zeldin,” Ms. Casey Quigley said.
In Riverhead, Mr. Zeldin received 57.3 percent of the vote, down from 61 percent in 2016, when — with Mr. Trump at the top of the ticket — he cruised to victory by more than 53,000 votes over Democratic challenger Ms. Throne-Holst. Democratic support increased at 20 of 22 Riverhead election districts this year, but Mr. Gershon won only four of those districts.
In the coming days, when the final absentee ballots are counted and the 2018 election is certified, Mr. Zeldin’s win over Mr. Gershon will likely be by fewer than 15,000 votes. He’ll have won by about 52 percent, down from over 58 percent in 2016.