Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 7:07 AM
Updated: Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 7:19 AM
Michelle Breidenbach / The Post-Standard
Syracuse, NY — The first day of carefully examining each document produced by voters in the 25th Congressional District ended with three more votes for Ann Marie Buerkle, the Republican who leads U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei.
In Onondaga County, election commissioners rescanned 635 paper ballots — all ballots cast at the DeWitt Town Hall on election night — because a poll worker on election night accidentally mixed a stack of unscanned ballots with the rest of the scanned ballots. She immediately called in her error on election night.
Lawyers for Maffei and Buerkle watched as election Commissioners Helen Kiggins, a Republican, and Ed Ryan, a Democrat, scanned each ballot into a machine inside a DeWitt warehouse.
Three new votes puts Buerkle’s lead at 687 votes.
It was a small change, but a big day for the close race.
On Tuesday morning, teams of workers from both sides showed up at two different Onondaga County election board sites to set a massive recount in motion.
At the Onondaga County Board of Elections, 16 people split into teams to examine each of the 8,155 applications for absentee ballots and the envelopes that hold the 5,978 absentee ballots that had been received so far. At a DeWitt warehouse, where the voting machines are stored, election workers started the normal recanvass and audit of machines and recounted the DeWitt Town Hall votes.
The day before, Maffei, D-DeWitt, won a court order that allowed both campaigns quick access to every document filed by an absentee voter.
Frank Hoare, his attorney, said he trained campaign workers on election law and sent them in to make sure that every signature on an absentee application and ballot matched the signature on file for each voter at the board of elections.
The room was tense at the board of elections. At starting time, one woman for the Maffei campaign was loudly demanding that everyone be issued the same kind of pencil in case of a stray mark.
Election workers calmly started sharpening pencils and rearranging their desks for visitors to take over the office. After an hour, workers from opposing campaigns had settled into a quiet rhythm, working side by side in the elections board offices. People at one table examined stacks of applications for absentee ballots.
Two other groups gathered around computers with an election worker at each station. An elections staff member would hold up an envelope, containing an absentee ballot, and wave the front and back of each envelope around the group. The election staffer would then call up an electronic copy of the voters’ signature on her computer. Campaign workers would crowd in to see if it matched the signature on the envelope.
Campaign workers talked in quiet whispers, consulted their smart phones and the Maffei campaign often asked for a copy of each side of the envelope and other data about each voter.
Voting is a private matter, but each voter’s signature, address, phone number, party registration and voting history is public information. The campaigns will have to pay 25 cents a page for copies and elections commissioners were discussing charging them as they go. It could take days. They got through very few election districts in a full day of work.
Many of the signatures are obvious matches. They have the same curly letters or the flair of a scribble at the end of the name. Others are not as clear. Some are marked with an X, which is legal if a witness signs the envelope as well. Others contain a salutation the voter did not use when he or she signed his official signature for the board of elections records. One envelope had a yellow sticky note to indicate that the person did not sign it the first time and it had to be sent back for signature. Those are the kinds of discrepancies on which the campaigns seem to focus.
Kiggins warned that signatures change over the years, even hers has changed, and some have been on file for decades.
Ryan said the campaigns intend to bring any objections to election commissioners all at once, on Nov. 16.
A hearing is also set for 3 p.m. that day, before state Supreme Court Justice Brian DeJoseph. The absentee ballots will not be opened until that day.
More than 11,000 ballots were sent out across all four counties in the district. Military and overseas voters have a Nov. 24 deadline, as long as their ballots are postmarked by Nov. 1.
Monroe County completed its recanvass and routine audit on Tuesday, and found no errors, according to Doug French, of Monroe’s Board of Elections. Monroe will begin counting absentee ballots on Friday. Of the 1,660 ballots distributed, 1,297 had been returned as of Monday, French said.
Wayne County resumed a recanvass and audit Tuesday that it started last week. As of Tuesday afternoon, the county had not reported any changes. Cayuga County on Wednesday will become the first county in the 25th Congressional District to count its absentee ballots. The county sent out 145 ballots and had received 123 returns as of Monday.
Both sides continued to try to raise money on Tuesday to pay for lawyers and staff to oversee the ballot battle.
New House Republican Leader John Boehner sent out an e-mail appeal Tuesday for contributions to help Buerkle and the seven other Republican candidates involved in races that are too close to call. Boehner wrote that “Republican candidates need your help to ensure that every vote — including provisional and military ballots — is counted, and counted fairly.”