Mail-in ballots sweep Democrats back into office in NY Senate races

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A tidal wave of absentee ballots has swept embattled Democratic state senators back into office — enabling them to overcome substantial deficits with their Republican rivals in the machine count on Election Day.

Sens. Andrew Gounardes of Brooklyn and James Gaughran of Long Island both emerged victorious after tough challenges from their GOP opponents, who were in the lead by thousands of votes on Election Day.

Gounardes trailed GOP rival Vito Bruno about 6,000 votes in the machine count.

But Gournardes, a first-term Democrat representing the 22nd district in southern Brooklyn that includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Marine Park, was up by 1,800 votes over Bruno after scooping up more than three-quarters of the 12,744 mail-in ballots.

“It is the honor of my life to serve my community, and today as the remaining votes are counted, I am enormously grateful to the neighborhoods of southern Brooklyn for re-electing me to represent them in the State Senate. I will go back to Albany and continue to fight for our community while always remembering the values we share together: to help our neighbors in need and do what is right no matter what,” Gournades said in a statement.

Said Brooklyn Democratic chairwoman Rodneyse Bichotte, “We were confident of our voters in these elections who would not let the challenges of the pandemic keep them from expressing their will at the ballot box. Brooklyn will remain blue and we look forward to making the results official!”

Meanwhile, top Democratic leaders gathered on Long Island Wednesday afternoon, congratulating Gaughran (D-Suffolk) on his reelection.

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State Senator Andrew Gounardes, left, and State Senate candidate Vito Bruno.

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Ed Smyth and State Senator Jim Gaughran.

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Gaughran defeated Republican Edmund Smyth, who had a 13,000-vote lead in the machine count on Election Night. Gaughran pulled ahead Tuesday night as he captured more than 70 percent of the 36,000 absentee votes.

First-term Democratic state Sen. Kevin Thomas also declared victory after beating back a strong challenge from Dennis Dunne, who was backed by the New York City police union.

The PBA and a coalition of two dozen law enforcement unions sought to defeat Thomas and other Democrats for backing the controversial law eliminating cash bail for many crimes. Billionaire Ron Lauder also put up $5 billion to aid Republicans.

The Republicans did knock off at least one Democratic incumbent. GOP challenger Alexis Weik defeated Democratic state Sen. Monica Martinez in Suffolk County’s 3rd District on Long Island.

But Democrats — who are in the majority — said their candidates have won 40 of the 63 races with four key races in the Hudson Valley and upstate still up in the air. Democrats can secure a veto-proof majority if they win two of the four seats.

Thousands of absentee ballots are still being counted to decide the race in the 40th district between former Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and first-term Democratic Sen. Peter Harckham. Astorino had a healthy lead in the machine count with thousands of absentee ballots still being counted in Putnam and parts of Westchester County.

Democratic leaders said their decision to encourage their voters to cast mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic paid off, while Republicans — led by President Trump — focused mostly on in-person voting.

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Rob Astorino and State Sen. Peter Harckham

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Dennis Dunne and State Sen. Kevin Thomas

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“Our Senate campaigns were designed to take advantage of the expected surge of absentee votes and implemented the most aggressive absentee effort in history,” said Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), who also serves as the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee chairman.

“Those efforts are now bearing fruit as each day we get closer to a supermajority,” he said.

The Senate Republican conference did not dispute the results.

Senate GOP spokeswoman Candice Giove instead noted that Republican newcomers were elected to fill seats vacated by retirements.

“The Senate Republicans are excited about the many new members who will soon be joining our conference. This group of leaders will bring new energy to our fight for the millions of families and taxpayers across this state who put their faith in us. We look forward to welcoming them to Albany and continuing our fight to restore balance to our State Capitol,” Giove said.

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