But as the race for Ulster County District Attorney is proving, when it comes to local elections, a handful of votes can be the difference between winning and losing.
Twenty-two days after Election Day, Democrat David Clegg and Republican Michael J. Kavanagh remain locked in a virtual tie to become the county's next top prosecutor, with the outcome now resting on 283 unopened ballots whose validity have been challenged.
Elections officials and attorneys for Clegg and Kavanagh will be before state Supreme Court Judge Richard J. McNally at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday for a preliminar... hearing on the challenged ballots. Arguments on specific ballots will begin on Wednesday, Democratic Elections Commissioner Ashley Dittus said.
Dittus said she doesn't know whether McNally will rule on ballots throughout the course of the proceedings or wait until arguments are heard on all 283 ballots before deciding which ballots should be counted and which should be discarded.
Dittus said depending on how the court proceedings go, it may be two more weeks before a final victor is known.
At the end of Election Day, Nov. 5, Kavanagh led Clegg by a razor-thin three-vote lead out of nearly 50,000 votes cast.
Dittus said the county saw a voter turnout of roughly 53 percent this year, down significantly from 2017, when 75 percent of the registered voters turned out to cast their ballots in an election that featured the governor's race as well as statewide and congressional races.
"They think, 'Oh, my vote doesn't count," Dittus said of the low voter turnout. "It's a shame."
Low voter turnout could explain the reason for the number of close races in this year's election. While the Kavanagh/Clegg race was by far the closest race his year, a number of other races in towns and legislative districts across the county also came down to wire. In each of those races, the margin of victory was fewer than 60 votes.
Kavanagh initially widened his lead as the count of absentee and affidavit ballots got underway, by the second day of counting, Clegg was able to come from behind and not only close the gap but lurch into the lead.
From that point on, Clegg maintained his lead over Kavanagh, although throughout the seven-day count, the margin between the two men has fluctuated greatly.
At one point Clegg was leading Kavanagh by more than 100 votes. When the counting ended Tuesday, he held only a 45-vote lead over Kavanagh. But 283 uncounted ballots whose validity have been challenged remain, and the final outcome of the election rests on those.
Dittus said 180 of those ballots were challenged by Republicans and 90 were challenged by Democrats. An additional 13 ballots were challenged after Dittus and Republican Elections Commissioner Thomas Turco were unable to decide whether the ballots should be counted.
A ballot is challenged when one side or the other believes it has a reason to challenge the validity of a ballot.
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