The Absentee Ballots Produce a Late Blue Wave in New York’s Legislative Races

NY State Government: Week in Review

When the first election results were posted on the evening of November 3, it appeared relatively bleak for the Democrats in New York State, even though there were a high number of absentee ballots to be counted (a count that could not begin under law until November 10, at the earliest). In the presidential race, Joe Biden was the clear winner, but his margin was only 57%-42% from the machine count, with Trump apparently carrying both Nassau and Suffolk counties as well as Rockland County in the New York City suburbs and a large swath of Upstate New York. In the state legislative contests, instead of the Democrats returning with somewhere between 105 and 108 Assembly seats, it looked as if the Democrats might not even cross the threshold of 100 seats. And in the State Senate races, instead of having the much rumored veto-proof majority at 42 or more seats, the Democrats headed into the absentee ballot count trailing in seven seats currently held by Democratic senators and behind in two prime takeaway opportunities (the Sen. George Amedore (R) seat, south and west of the Capitol District, and the old Sen. John DeFrancisco (R) seat in Onondaga County, vacated when Sen. Robert Antonacci (R) won a State Supreme Court judgeship last year). The speculation was rife that the State Senate Democrats would end up losing five to eight seats net.

But that picture emerging from November 3–6 proved to be the ultimate example of an incomplete picture. As the absentee votes were counted last week into this past weekend, a much clearer portrait was emerging as to who actually had won key elections in the Empire State. In the presidential contest, Biden pulled ahead in Nassau and Rockland counties, meaning that Biden had carried, not lost, two of the downstate suburban counties many believed he lost on Election Day. Biden also started pulling ahead narrowly in several swing Upstate counties (e.g., Saratoga and Rensselaer counties). When the remaining 16% is fully counted, it seems far more likely than not that Biden will clear 60% of the state’s total vote.

This could have been easily foreseen by a quick analysis of the exit polls for New York State. The larger and apparently more accurate of the exit polls, the AP-NORC survey showed that in New York, of the 43% of voters who voted on November 3, Trump led by 60%-38%. But among the 35% who voted early in person, Biden led by 67%-32%, while the 22% who voted by absentee ballots (mailed in and not counted until after November 10), Biden had a sweeping lead of 73%-26%. The net effect is that the votes reported November 3–5, when the machine counts were completed, were missing just over one-fifth of the total vote and that Biden was winning by a 3-1 margin.

There was another observation in a second exit poll, by Edison Research, that proved revealing: Among New York’s independent (i.e., unaffiliated) voters, Biden led 59%-38%, and among Republicans, Trump won by 78%-21% (that 21% for Biden was much higher than the national numbers, where Trump led 94%-6% among GOP voters). Among New York State Democratic voters, Biden led in this exit poll 96%-4%. It appears from melding the numbers from both exit polls that the independents and Republicans who were voting for Biden were far more likely to have voted by absentee ballot than in-person machine voting (the aggregate or early and November 3 voting). In short, when the absentee ballot counting for the legislative races neared completion, the Democratic candidate was positioned to win in any race where the Republican candidate did not have a landslide lead in the machine count—from across all regions of the state.

Right now in the Assembly races, it appears that the Democrats will retain 107 out of 150 Assembly seats (e.g., incumbent Democrat Judy Griffin overcoming a narrow deficit in Nassau County, Jen Lunsford defeating incumbent Republican Mark Johns in Monroe County and incumbent Carrie Woerner padding her narrow lead over Republican challenger Dave Catalfamo in their lower north country-based district; although longtime Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee (D) has appeared to lose her race against Mike Lawler (R)).

In the State Senate, Democrats are on track to lose two incumbents (Sen. Monica Martinez in Suffolk County and Sen. Jen Metzger in the Mid-Hudson region, although Sen. Metzger has reduced Republican Mike Martucci’s lead substantially as the absentee ballot counting proceeds). Furthermore, the Democrats are on track to have overcome machine count deficits and appear to have held five seats (Sens. James Gaughran and Kevin Thomas on Long Island; Sen. Andrew Gounardes in Brooklyn; Elijah Reichlin Melnick in the Rockland County-based, open Sen. David Carlucci seat; and Sen. Peter Harckham in Westchester and Putnam counties). And it appears that the Democrats are going to pick up at least four seats: Sean Ryan in Erie County, Samra Brouk and Jeremy Cooney in Monroe County, and Michelle Hinchey for the district west and south of Albany. Further, the Democrats are on the cusp of winning their 42nd seat with one left to count, the close John Mannion (D) – Angi Renna (R) race in Onondaga, where the counting has been suspended until November 30 due to a COVID-19 outbreak among Board of Elections employees. All told, that leaves Democrats with an apparent net gain of two seats to reach 42 seats total, with the potential for a 43rd depending on the outcome of the Onondaga race.

In effect, the post-Election Day mail-in ballots had a tremendous impact on the outcomes of several races and changed the outlook for Democrats statewide. We are awaiting the final certified counts in all these races and hope they are completed by early December.

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