In the 107th Assembly District race, GOP incumbent Steve McLaughlin declared victory late Tuesday night, with results (as reported by three County Boards of Elections) showing him ahead by 2,282 votes.
However, challenger Cheryl Roberts refused to concede, based on some theoretical possibility that absentee ballots could alter the outcome. But could they, really? Basic math suggests a reversal in her favor is extremely unlikely.
Calls to area Boards of Elections indicate that the number of absentee ballots issued to voters for this race totals about 4,600. So far, approximately 3,900 of those have been returned. If postmarked by election day, some additional ballots may be received. Generously, maybe 4,150 will come back. Of those, a few ballots will be deemed invalid for some technical reason, while other voters will be found to have skipped over the 107th Assembly race—or have written someone else in. Reasonably and for argument’s sake, let’s estimate that there a total of 4,000 more votes will be counted toward this race.
So does Roberts have a shot? With McLaughlin already ahead by 2,282, the raw numbers suggest her remaining chances are a longshot at best.
Years ago while handling a similar dispute for a Hudson candidate, I devised the simple formula pictured above for quickly computing how many votes a candidate who is behind in an election needs to get from the remaining voters to come from behind to win.
By that basic math, Roberts would have to get 3,141 of those 4,000 absentee ballots just to tie McLaughlin—3,142 to win. McLaughlin would have to garner only 858 of the 4,000 absentees to lose.
In other words, 78%.5 of all the absentee ballots would have to break for Roberts, and only 21.5% to McLaughlin. By contrast, the machine votes broke 52%-48% for McLaughlin.
In other words, Roberts would have to increase her tally +30% among absentee voters than among Election Day voters just to make this close. In my experience of contested absentee ballot races, the ballots generally follow the same pattern as the rest of voters, and even when they deviate, they rarely if ever deviate more than 5-10% from the “machine” votes.
Furthermore, the demographics of those absentee ballots also do not favor Roberts (whose chances were diminished during the campaign when she was cited for dishonest campaign literature by the non-partisan Fair Campaign Practices organization). 73% of the absentee ballots received so far come from Rensselaer County, which McLaughlin won easily by about 7.5%; whereas only 24% of the absentees come from Columbia, which Roberts won by a similar margin. Washington County was a dead heat, and only a handful of absentees will come from there in any case.
In other words, for Roberts to win she’d not only have to do significantly better than on Election Day, she’d have to do so in the less-friendly territory of Rensselaer County. While the general perception is that in Columbia County, absentees come more heavily from liberal weekenders than from longtime Republican residents, as one moves northward a higher percentage of the absentees emanate from nursing homes and more conservative retirees.
It thus would be remarkable, verging on highly improblable, for McLaughlin’s margin not to hold up. But that may not prevent Roberts’ more rabid partisans from mounting a long, exhausting and expensive ballot fight.