A razor-thin margin separated the two candidates for East Hampton Town supervisor on Tuesday afternoon as the Suffolk County Board of Elections and representatives of Bill Wilkinson’s and Zachary Cohen’s campaigns continued their review of absentee ballots. “It looks like Wilkinson is going to win by 12 votes,” Mr. Cohen said late that afternoon.
On election night, the board’s unofficial tally of ballots put Mr. Wilkinson, the Republican incumbent, ahead of his challenger by just 177 votes, with over 1,000 absentee ballots having been sent to East Hampton voters.
The Board of Elections had received about 800 of those ballots in the mail by Nov. 15, the final day it would accept them from non-military voters. A district-by-district count in the supervisor’s race began on Friday and continued Monday.
By day’s end Monday, absentee, affidavit, and unscanned ballots in all 19 East Hampton election districts had been counted, said Jesse Garcia of the office of Republican Election Commissioner Wayne T. Rogers. Representatives from both campaigns and their election attorneys returned to the Board of Elections Tuesday afternoon to resume review of the 70 or so challenged ballots that remained unopened.
According to Christopher Kelley, an attorney and the Democrats’ campaign manager, Mr. Wilkinson was ahead by about 45 votes at the end of the day on Monday, with the majority of challenges coming from the Republicans. Neither the Republican chairwoman, Trace Duryea, nor Mr. Wilkinson had returned calls for comment as of press time Tuesday.
“We’re going back this afternoon to see if we can whittle down some of those challenges,” Mr. Kelley said Tuesday morning.
Mr. Kelley and Mr. Garcia both said that many of the challenges stem from dual registration questions in which a voter may be registered in East Hampton, for instance, but may also have been registered at some point in New York City. A challenge is lodged, and after some research it may be dropped or upheld by the Republican and Democratic commissioners. “If both commissioners agree on a residential issue, the objection is upheld,” Mr. Garcia said. “If they disagree, the ballot is opened and counted.”
Either campaign has the option of going to court to stop the opening of challenged ballots. Regardless of whether the court becomes involved, the outcome of the race may not be known until after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Commissioners were to review the final remaining unopened ballots by noon on Wednesday, and at that point, Mr. Cohen said Tuesday evening, the results could be clear.
In the Shelter Island supervisor’s race, absentee ballots shifted the tally from a slim election night lead for the Republican challenger, Glenn Waddington, to a 23-vote victory for the Democratic incumbent, James Dougherty.
In East Hampton Town, it seems the victor will most likely win by a similar margin. Mr. Wilkinson lost his first bid for town supervisor to Bill McGintee in 2007 by just 104 votes in an election in which 6,528 people cast ballots. He won by a landslide in 2009 with 7,118 people voting. This year, including absentee ballots, about 6,750 people voted.
“It’s going to be very tight,” Mr. Kelley said.
Absentee ballots may also change the makeup of the nine-member East Hampton Town Trustees. Just 44 votes separated Deborah Klughers and Raymond Hartjen, both Democrats. As of Tuesday, the Board of Elections had not begun to count absentee votes in that race.