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Pete Harckham closes in on Rob Astorino in Senate election ballot count

The incumbent Democrat gains ground with huge margins in absentee votes.

Mark Lungariello
Rockland/Westchester Journal News

Republican Rob Astorino’s election lead over Democratic New York State Sen. Pete Harckham is evaporating as thousands of absentee ballots are slowly counted in Westchester County.

State Senate Democrats would clinch a veto-proof supermajority for 2021 with a win by Harckham in the 40th District, which includes part of Westchester, Dutchess and Putnam.

Senate leaders projected a Harckham win at a news conference in Albany on Monday, but the one-term incumbent has yet to declare victory.

Harckham trailed by a little more than 2,000 votes on Monday, according to unofficial estimates by campaigns and sources, but the county Board of Elections hasn’t given an official update on the count so far.

There were still more than 18,000 ballots to be counted as of Monday, and it turned out that the initial estimate of 25,000 absentees in the Westchester part of the district was underestimated by several thousand, sources said.

New York State Senate Candidates, left to right, Pete Harckham and Rob Astorino

Harckham could take the lead as soon as Monday as he picks up votes in the absentees by a wide margin. The uncounted ballots are largely from Democratic and independent registered voters.

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William O'Reilly, spokesman for Astorino, said on Monday it was premature to call the race.

"The proper thing to do is keep counting, and reserve any pronouncements until the process is completed," O'Reilly said. "That's how democracy works."

Astorino, the former Westchester County executive and 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate, led by 8,059 votes through in-person voting.

But the coronavirus meant more than 35,000 absentee ballots in the race, disproportionately from Democratic registered voters.

Harckham whittled down the lead, as the ballots went his way in the Dutchess and Putnam counts last week.

Astorino has been trailing in the absentee counts by large margins, mirroring a national trend where Republicans have been less likely to vote by mail. Absentees from voters in the town of Mount Pleasant, where Astorino lives, were to be opened beginning Monday.

The opening of absentees was slowed by a lawsuit from Astorino’s campaign and the count, which didn’t begin until Friday, has been observed by attorneys.

Harckham took issue with the slow pace of the count, with around 3,000 ballots opened per day so far in Westchester.

"They see the same numbers we do so why are they dragging this out till Christmas?" Harckham said. "Just let the votes be counted and let the chips fall where they may."

Mark Lungariello covers government and politics. Follow him on Facebook @lungariello and Twitter @marklungariello