The New York Times

March 8, 2009


Votes Counted in Staten Island Race



The recount on Staten Island will not determine who lives in the White House, and it lacks a celebrity like the former comedian Al Franken, who is locked into a seemingly endless Senate race with Norm Coleman in Minnesota.


Still, that does not mean the people who are trying to figure who won a February election for the 49th City Council District, on the northern shore of the island, take their task any less seriously.


Dozens of election officials, campaign workers and lawyers sifted through more than 10,000 ballots Wednesday to Saturday in a fourth-floor conference room in Clifton. Both doors to the room have two deadbolts, and only keys from a Democratic official and a Republican official can open them.


When the unofficial results were completed last month, Ken Mitchell, a Democrat, defeated four other candidates in the Feb. 24 contest to succeed Michael E. McMahon, a Democrat who won a Congressional race in November.


The Council election was nonpartisan and the candidates, three Democrats and two independents, ran without party affiliations on the ballot.


But there was no resting on laurels on Friday, when the recount was about half-completed, among members of Mr. Mitchell’s camp, who, with their laptops in front of them, kept close tabs on the tallies.


Near them was an even larger contingent that represented Debi Rose, another Democrat, who had trailed Mr. Mitchell in the unofficial results. Sitting in folding metal chairs, the Rose supporters leaned forward to try to see each ballot as the election officials held them up.


“Rose. Rose. Rose. Baker. Rose,” said Anthony Andriulli, a counter at one table, as he read off the votes from a Port Richmond district. (The Rev. Tony Baker was another candidate.) Taken together, the names announced by Mr. Andriulli, who wore a red plastic sleeve on his left index finger to get a tighter grip on pages, seemed to suggest a cryptic mantra.


Though a hushed, by-the-books exactitude permeated the room, the procedure occasionally bordered on the silly, though it never seemed to stray from the vagaries of state election laws.


At the room’s other table, for instance, the counters realized that although 262 people had signed in at a polling place in the Westerleigh neighborhood, it had somehow generated 263 ballots.


The solution, according to Article 9, Section 108? Resolve the situation as one might in poker, when a misdeal leaves a player with too many cards: Remove a random ballot to make the numbers match.


And so, after turning her head away so as not to look at the ballots, Nicole Traficenti, an election worker, plunged her arm deep into a plastic bin, rummaged around and removed one of them.


Steven H. Richman, a lawyer for the City Board of Elections, then sealed the extra ballot in a manila envelope and tucked it away.


“We need to preserve them in case of court challenges, in case voters claim we deprived them of their vote,” Mr. Richman said, as he paced through the fluorescent-lighted room.


When another question arose about what to do with a ballot that bore a scribbled name of a candidate next to its typed-out version, Mr. Richman said to disqualify it.


When the unofficial count was completed last month, Mr. Mitchell, who was Mr. McMahon’s chief of staff, led Ms. Rose, an administrator at the College of Staten Island, by just 91 votes. But the closeness of the race did not prompt the recount. State law dictates that the result of every election can be confirmed only after removing panels on voting machines and inspecting the counters inside.


But machines were not allowed in the Staten Island election because of a court order handed down on Feb. 23 — the day before the election — to allow a fifth candidate, John Tabacco, to appear the ballot.


By that late date it was impossible to add Mr. Tabacco’s name on the voting machines, so paper had to be substituted.


That day, a Rochester printing plant churned out 40,000 paper ballots and trucked them to Staten Island before polls opened at dawn on Feb. 24, Mr. Richman said.


Because a paper ballot takes about four times as long to manually inspect as ones in a machine do, the recount has been unusually lengthy, he added.


When the recount ended on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Mitchell had widened his lead, receiving 4,499 votes to 4,157 for Ms. Rose, out of 11,177 cast, according to Kevin Hunt, a spokesman for Mr. Mitchell. The Board of Elections will not certify a victor until at least March 17.


Some workers and officials said they had been eager to wrap up the process by Saturday to meet a different civic duty — attending Staten Island’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday.


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