The certified election results announced by the state of New York last month recorded 11,071 votes cast for the Socialist Equality Party’s candidate for US Senate, Bill Van Auken. This final official tally represents more than a 41 percent increase over the unofficial returns announced in the immediate aftermath of the November 2006 midterm elections.
Van Auken challenged incumbent Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton in the race, running on a platform demanding the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq and advancing socialist policies to combat social inequality. His name was placed on the ballot through a concerted petition campaign that won the support of 25,000 New York voters.
While the overall New York State Board of Elections results recorded a major increase in the SEP vote statewide—over an initial count of 7,738—the New York City Board of Elections, which issues the final count for the city’s five boroughs, produced precisely the opposite change in its final count.
The city board claimed in its official tally that the SEP candidate received only 741 votes, as opposed to the 2,594 ballots that were reported cast for Van Auken in the city in the immediate aftermath of the November 7 election. In other words, more than two thirds of the votes for the SEP candidate in the city of New York were mysteriously wiped out in the city board’s final count.
An official at the Manhattan Board of Elections attributed the fall in the SEP vote total to a “computer glitch,” claiming that the first vote totals reported were “the correct ones” and that the report would be corrected on the New York City Board of Elections web site.
When it was pointed out that it was highly unlikely that the final tabulation would be the same as the one reported in the immediate aftermath of the balloting, given the sharp increase in vote totals recorded for the SEP in virtually every other county in New York State, the official said that the matter would have to be investigated by the board’s computer department.
Timothy Gay, deputy chief clerk of the Board of Elections in Manhattan, then contacted the SEP, allowing that the change in the party’s vote total was unprecedented during his five-year tenure at the board and that the agency would have to re-tally the totals for the city’s thousands of voting machines to achieve an accurate final count.
This gross error raises politically sensitive issues for New York officials, as both the city and the state have been sued by the US Justice Department for failing to comply with the Help America Vote Act, passed and enacted in 2002. This legislation, drafted at least in part as a response to the controversy surrounding the stolen 2000 presidential election, was ostensibly designed to assure the integrity of federal election results by updating antiquated voting systems, such as the city’s mechanical lever machines.
The law itself has come under fire for promoting the use of electronic voting systems that have been shown to be prone to both errors and manipulation.
The sharp change in the SEP’s vote totals outside New York City in some cases reflect the fact that ballots were impounded in hotly contested races, such as the one that saw incumbent Republican Thomas Reynolds narrowly beat his right-wing Democratic challenger, Jack Davis in New York’s 26th Congressional District, which includes part of Erie County, whose seat is the city of Buffalo.
While preliminary returns from Erie County—where the SEP campaigned extensively— gave Van Auken 550 votes, the state’s final certified results included 1,458 votes.
Similarly, in Monroe County, which includes the aging industrial city of Rochester, the vote total for the SEP went from 273 to 1,128.
In Nassau County, which includes some of New York City’s near suburbs, the vote total went from 401 in the week after the election to 1,424 in the final count. In Onondaga County, which includes the city of Syracuse, the final returns included 588 votes, as opposed to the 212 initially reported.
Final vote tallies also included, in some cases, previously uncounted absentee ballots, including those of US troops deployed overseas.
If a similar increase had been recorded for the results initially released by the New York City Board of Elections, the SEP could have received nearly 3,000 more votes than what was reported in the final count.
Despite the apparent substantial undercount of the votes cast for Van Auken in New York City, the SEP, which was appearing for the first time ever on a statewide ballot in New York, significantly outpolled the US Senate candidate of the Socialist Workers Party, a movement that abandoned Trotskyism in favor of middle class protest politics in the 1960s and has run candidates in the state for decades. Compared to the 11,071 ballots cast for Van Auken, the SWP’s candidate received 6,967 votes in the final official count, with the SEP outpolling the SWP in all but 5 of the 57 counties outside of New York City.
The Socialist Equality Party intends to vigorously press its demand that the New York City Board of Election provide an accurate vote count and will use every means at its disposal to assure that every ballot cast by an SEP supporter is counted.