By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 16, 2009
NEW YORK, April 15 -- The ongoing, nip-and-tuck battle for New York's 20th Congressional District took a turn for the absurd Wednesday when the Republicans challenged the ballot of the district's popular former congresswoman, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D).
The latest Board of Elections tally in the contest between Democrat Scott Murphy and Republican Jim Tedisco, now being waged over which absentee ballots to count, showed Murphy with an 86-vote lead over Tedisco.
Tedisco representatives in Columbia County argue that Gillibrand was in the district campaigning with Murphy on Election Day, March 31, and could have voted in person, rendering her absentee ballot invalid.
"Representatives from the campaign are raising concerns on those ballots that may have been improperly cast, regardless of who they belong to," said Tedisco campaign spokesman Tyler Brown.
Challenging the former representative's ballot appeared to illustrate the Republicans' aggressive approach in this protracted recount phase, a painstaking county-by-county canvass of absentee, overseas and military ballots, during which poll watchers from both sides can request that ballots they deem questionable be set aside. Some independent analysts said the tactic showed desperation.
"This is part of their larger attempt to disenfranchise legal Democratic voters and delay the inevitable Democratic victory in the 20th," said Gillibrand spokeswoman Bethany Lesser. Though Gillibrand was in the district on Election Day, Lesser said, she was not in Columbia County, where the former representative resides when not in Washington.
Gillibrand penned an op-ed for the Huffington Post on Wednesday titled "Let My Vote And Every Vote Be Counted," in which she called the "Republicans' challenge . . . frivolous and without merit."
The election was held after Gillibrand was appointed to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) in the Senate when she was nominated to be secretary of state.
The Board of Elections' updated count, including those absentee paper ballots already counted, shows Murphy, a venture capitalist, with 79,105 votes and Tedisco, the former Republican leader in the State Assembly, with 79,019.