Did Democrat Owens really win in NY-23?

Though he's already been sworn in to the House, Bill Owens' lead over his conservative opponent is shrinking

Published November 12, 2009 10:25PM (EST)

The night of Nov. 3rd was a dark one for Democrats, but there was one little ray of hope: The outcome of the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional district. In an area that had been a bastion of Republicanism since the Civil War, Democrat Bill Owens beat Doug Hoffman, a third-party candidate who'd garnered so much support from conservatives that he was able to push the official Republican candidate, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, out of the race.

This morning, however, a different story began to emerge. Although Hoffman was reportedly down by 5,335 votes when he conceded the election last Tuesday night, a recanvassing of the county’s 11 districts has Hoffman trailing Owens by just 3,026 votes -- 63,672 to 66,698. The largest voting error was found in what was supposed to be Hoffman’s stronghold, Oswego County. Election night reports there showed the Conservative Party candidate holding onto a slim lead of 500 votes; the revised results have Hoffman’s margin at 1,748.

The results of the recanvassing mean that the election will be decided by a count of absentee ballots. More than 11,000 were reportedly distributed.


The whole matter is further complicated by the fact that Hoffman conceded the election last Tuesday night. This allowed Owens to be sworn into office last Friday, and to cast a much-needed vote in favor of the House Democrats’ healthcare plan the very next day. The Hoffman campaign has begun investigating its legal options.

While the news of Owens’ narrowing margin of victory (accompanied by at least one suggestion of foul play) won't have Democrats jumping for joy, it probably won’t make much of a difference. There are only 5,400 absentee ballots left to be counted, meaning that Hoffman would have to win an astonishing 80 percent of the absentee vote in order to overcome Owens’ lead. On top of that, Republican Scozzafava was likely still in the race when many of those ballots were cast, making the odds that Hoffman could claw his way back even slimmer.

By Emily Holleman

Emily Holleman is the editor of Open Salon.

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