20th Congressional District: 59 vote difference, Libertarian party in middle

Scott Murphy is the candidate for the Democrats. Jim Tedisco is the Republican. The special election to fill the 20th Congressional District seat in New York, vacated when Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to Senate, is too close to call. Media reports show Murphy winning with a lead of 59 or 65 points. Though, there are thousands of absentee and military ballots at large.

A third candidate had been running for the seat, Libertarian Eric Sundwall. When Sundwall’s petitions were challenged, he was removed from the ballot. In addition, after Sundwall’s defeat, he endorsed Democrat Scott Murphy.

And, of great importance, and noted by Ballot Access News: Because of the timing of the petition challenges in a special election, Eric Sundwall’s name was actually on the absentee ballots. So, as the absentee ballots are counted, it will be clear the influence the Libertarian Party may have had on the overall race, and is having because of its position on the absentee ballots. It is amazing that mainstream media reports could leave out the name of a candidate who is going to be named in the recount.

Excerpts from a story at the Washington Post (which leaves out any mention of the Libertarian candidate or his endorsement):

(excerpt from) Washington Post
Absentee Ballots to Decide N.Y. House Race
Democrat Murphy Has Slender Lead Over Tedisco in Closely Watched Contest

NEW YORK, March 31 — A special election in Upstate New York to fill a vacant House seat…with the two candidates separated by just 59 votes and a lengthy process of awaiting and counting absentee ballots set to begin.

With all precincts reporting, Democrat Scott Murphy, a venture capitalist, had 77,344 votes. Jim Tedisco, the Republican leader in the state assembly, had 77,285.

Election officials and outside observers said that about 5,900 absentee ballots had been received as of Monday. But about 10,000 absentee ballots were mailed, and those still out have another week to return — 13 days for ballots from overseas and from members of the military — as long as they were postmarked by Tuesday.

Steven Greenberg, of the Siena Research Institute of Siena College, said that slightly more than 1,000 military ballots and slightly fewer than 1,000 overseas ballots were mailed out.

“Florida 2000, Minnesota 2008 and now the New York 20th District 2009,” Greenberg said, citing two previous electoral deadlocks.

Some background and related stories from IPR:

Former Libertarian Candidate Sundwall Endorses Democrat Scott Murphy
March 27th, 2009 · 98 Comments


Libertarian Sundwall faces petition challenge
March 18th, 2009 · 25 Comments

21 thoughts on “20th Congressional District: 59 vote difference, Libertarian party in middle

  1. Kimberly Wilder Post author

    This race is so entertaining for me as a third party activist.

    It is a flashy object lesson on the power of third parties. And, why major party candidates try to block third party candidates from the race.

    It is also a lesson in the value of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). If there was IRV – where the voters may rank all the choices of candidates – then on the absentee ballots where Sundwall was picked, the voters second preference would have been expressed.

    Wonder if any major party folks will learn to appreciate IRV after this incident.


  2. AVB

    All votes for Sundwall on absentee ballots will be counted as void. Also, the ballots at polling places in some parts of the district still had Sundwall’s name on them- anyone who pulled the lever for Sundwall in those cases will also have a voided vote. As someone who voted for Sundwall via absentee ballot I am of course very upset about this- I was in contact with the Board of Elections and the Attorney General’s office, and wrote to the NY Secretary of State, but apparently no one in NY believes in the right of someones vote to be counted. The told me it was against New York State election law to count my vote or send me a new ballot.

  3. paulie

    @ BAN

    # billvanallen Says:
    April 1st, 2009 at 3:04 am

    Notice: USCA2nd Circ Motion docket 08-4323 Loeber v Spargo re: constitutionality of 20th CD special election result certification challenge

    Based upon the NY State Constitution districting article, the 20th Congressional District is unconstitutional. Loeber v Spargo has long awaited a scheduling order to first confirm the need for assignment of a special three judge District Court panel to hear this redistricting challenge. My assembly district overlaps the 20th US Congressional District of New York, contrary to the NY state constitution plan for nested state and federal legislative districting. (Rhinebeck).

    I am filing an emergency motion to expedite the scheduling order in Loeber v Spargo and stay the certification of the results of (Tuesdays) special election for the 20th CD

  4. sunshinebatman

    I saw a report that they will actually be accepting absentee ballots until April 13.

  5. Ross Levin

    Even if the votes are void, they’ll still have an impact by going to Sundwall/nowhere instead of going to one of the candidates.

    By way of his endorsement, Sundwall could be the anti-spoiler in this race for the Democrats!

  6. Chris

    I believe that New York has the most deliberately arcane and exclusionary ballot access laws in the US. I hope that people remember that the Republicans kicked the third party candidate off the ballot when they start accusing the Democrats of stealing the election. I would like to think that this will spur ballot access reform in New York, but I can’t see that happening.

  7. citizen1

    If the difference after the recount is less than Sundwal’s total how can there not be a do over?

  8. LibertyCowboy

    I assume NY law allows some sort of write-in cantidates and that Sundwall should be elidgeable. You could probably get them counted that way if the courts would allow the case to get that far considering he wouldn’t have won anyway…

    KW – the major parties oppose IRV as without the wasted vote argument their parties would get a lot of 1st choice votes leading to press and then actual victories. In states with at least one strong 3rd party you can get smaller 3rd parties on by arguing they will take votes from the smaller major party. Other than that, all you have is principle, and Ds &Rs will support real democracy at a ratio of about 1 to 75 in the real world.

  9. Kimberly Wilder

    Liberty Cowboy: Love your idea of pressuring a release of the numbers of votes based on “same as a write-in”. Great idea, and hope the Sundwall campaign looks into it.


    At our household, we came up with this thought:

    If the Board of Elections will not tally Eric Sundwall’s vote, than Eric and his campaign should take credit for EVERY VOIDED VOTE. So, they should just plan on a press release that says, “According to the best statistics available, Eric Sundwall received XXXX votes in the race, which was (more than) (less than) the margin of victory.” Where “XXXX” equal ALL the voided votes.

    I know that on my wilderside blog, where I have more “editorial privilege/fudge room” that is how I will report the results. They* withhold information, we make our best guess…

    *They meaning any or all: The government, the Board of Elections, the duopoly, the people of power supporting the status quo.

  10. paulie

    @ BAN:

    Unofficial Preliminary New York Returns Show a Tie for US House
    April 4th, 2009

    New York state held a special election on March 31 to fill the vacant U.S. House seat, 20th district. About half of the absentee votes still haven’t been counted. But so far, the results are: Murphy and Tedisco each have 77,225 votes. The election board hasn’t released the number of blank votes, or write-in votes, or absentee ballot votes cast for Eric Sundwall, the Libertarian who was on the absentee ballots but not the regular ballots.

    The breakdown by party so far is: Murphy, Democratic line, 66,648; Independence Party line, 6,902; Working Families line, 3,675. Tedisco, Republican line, 65,967; Conservative line, 11,258. Thanks to Bill Van Allen for these figures.

  11. paulie

    @ politics1.com:

    NEW YORK. The ongoing review of the election day votes cast in the various counties in Tuesday’s CD-20 special election now officially has venture capitalist Scott Murphy (D) and State Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco (R) tied with 77,225 votes apiece. However, Politico on Friday evening cited an observer “plugged into all the counties’ election boards” who reported that Murphy now has a 198 vote lead in the informal count. Tedisco’s campaign disagrees, claiming they believe the GOP candidate now leads by 30 votes.

  12. paulie

    same source, today…

    NEW YORK. State Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco now leads by 17 votes against ventura capitalist Scott Murphy (D) in the CD-20 special election. The primary was held last week. The Republican ended election night trailing by a handful of votes. Nearly 7,000 absentee and military ballots still remain to be counted.

  13. paulie

    same source, today…(4/10)

    NEW YORK. State Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco has increased his lead to 27 votes against venture capitalist Scott Murphy (D) in the CD-20 special election, as this new number includes absentee ballots counted in Dutchess, Columbia and Greene counties. According to House Race Hotline, “If these numbers hold, it would be a bad early sign for Tedisco” as he needed to run up a much larger lead from the absentees in these counties if he is to capture enough votes to prevail when everything is finally counted. UPDATE: Murphy has now moved into a 34 vote lead over Tedisco, according to the Albany Times-Union.

  14. paulie

    Today’s update from politics1…

    NEW YORK. According to the official New York State Board of Elections website, the lead has switched yet again. State Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco once again trails venture capitalist Scott Murphy (D) in the CD-20 special election. Murphy now leads by a margin of 35 votes.

  15. paulie

    NEW YORK. According to the official New York State Board of Elections website, venture capitalist Scott Murphy (D) now leads State Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco (R) by 47 votes in the CD-20 special election. The counting of absentee ballots is continuing.

  16. paulie

    NEW YORK. According to the official New York State Board of Elections website, venture capitalist Scott Murphy (D) has widened his lead over State Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco (R) to a margin of 86 votes in the CD-20 special election. While the counting of absentee ballots is continuing, this total now includes all absentee ballots from Tedisco’s GOP stronghold of Saratoga County. Only a small number of absentee ballots remain uncounted. As part of the GOP strategy here, Republican observers are objecting to absentee ballots filed by Democrats who own second homes outside the district. Republicans even challenged US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s ballot in her old House district. Tedisco’s campaign objected to Gillibrand’s absentee ballot because the Senator was in the district on Election Day and should not have been allowed to vote by absentee ballot. “Their latest move to challenge my ballot is part of a much larger attempt to disenfranchise legal Democratic voters and delay Scott Murphy’s inevitable victory in the 20th,” wrote Gillibrand in an op-ed on The Huffington Post website.

  17. paulie

    @ BAN


    New York Finishes Counting Non-challenged Ballots in US House Special Election; Democrat Leading
    April 18th, 2009

    On April 17, the last unchallenged ballots were counted in New York’s special election for U.S. House, 20th district. Democratic-Working Families-Independence nominee Scott Murphy leads Republican-Conservative nominee James Tedisco by 273 votes. However, there are still approximately 1,200 challenged ballots to be disposed of.

    A pattern has developed recently that when a major party challenges ballot status for a minor party or independent candidate in the same race, the challenging major party loses the election. This appears to be true in the New York election (assuming Murphy does indeed win), because Republicans and Conservatives had challenged ballot status for the Libertarian Party’s nominee Eric Sundwall (Sundwall had then endorsed Murphy).

    The pattern also held up in 2008, in both Pennsylvania and Maine. In 2008, Pennsylvania Republicans unsuccessfully challenged Bob Barr’s ballot position, and McCain subsequently lost Pennsylvania. In Maine, Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Tom Allen had challenged the only independent in that race, and Allen went on to lose the election overwhelmingly.

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