On election night, Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman conceded defeat to Democratic candidate Bill Owens after dramatically under-performing in key counties and deciding that he couldn’t overcome the gap. Today, the campaign is “looking very closely” at a recanvass of the district that has revealed, as recanvasses often do, screw-ups in the initial count. What was a 5,335-vote margin for Owens on election night is now a 3,026-vote margin, due largely to initial under-reporting of Hoffman votes in Oswego County and Jefferson County.
According to Mark Weiner’s report, the Hoffman campaign is leaving open the option of legal challenges if a recanvass goes Hoffman’s way. I talked to Hoffman’s spokesman Rob Ryan, who said the campaign is keeping its own count, and that lawyers have checked out the polling places that reported the bogus numbers. But he was bearish on the campaign’s chances of a post-facto upset.
“It’s not something I would place a bet on,” said Ryan. “Even if the margin had been 3,000 votes on election night, we would have conceded. We just might have done it later.”
Ryan pinned the confusing initial numbers on bureaucratic snafus, not malice. And he said the campaign only had “longshot odds” of passing Owens when absentee ballots were counted. The reason: Only around 10,000 absentee ballots were requested. If the final margin puts Owens anything like 3,000 votes ahead of Hoffman, Hoffman would need to beat Owens by a 2-1 margin or better among absentee voters. And while Republicans hope that Fort Drum could deliver a huge Hoffman margin in absentee ballots, military personnel only requested 2,299 absentee ballots.
The other factor in the absentee count is, of course, votes for Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava. While Ryan pointed out that Hoffman’s victory scenario always involved a three-way race with Owens and Scozzafava, Democrats pointed out to me that the presence of Scozzafava votes further shrink Hoffman’s margin for error. What if 10,000 people voted absentee and she won 3,000 of their votes? That would force Hoffman to win the remaining ballots by a 5-2 margin in order to pass Owens. That, plus Democratic confidence that they ran a good absentee campaign (as they did in NY-20 this year), closes off Hoffman’s hopes unless there are wild swings in the vote count that make this much, much closer.
UPDATE: I’m hearing that only 6000 absentee ballots total will have been returned. Let’s say Scozzafava won only around 1000 of them–probably quite a bit lower than her actual totals. That would require Hoffman to pick up four of every remaining five absentee ballots.