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Rose-Malliotakis House Fight Poised to Rage Well Past Election Day

Congressional candidates Rep. Max Rose and Nicole Malliotakis.
Congressional candidates Rep. Max Rose and Nicole Malliotakis.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY and Nicole Malliotakis for Congress/Facebook

Rep. Max Rose and Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis both concede one thing: Their bitter, nationally watched — and financed — race for Staten Island’s House seat appears destined to stretch past Election Day.

With tens of thousands of absentee ballots requested by voters in New York’s 11th Congressional District, the result of the contest –– which pollsters rate a “toss up” and has pulled over $11 million in outside spending –– may not be known until long after the final vote is cast, the campaigns say.

Around 50,000 absentee ballots are in play in the Staten Island-Brooklyn district, which drew 192,000 voters when Democrat Rose beat Republican Dan Donovan in 2018.

In New York, absentee ballots can be postmarked up until Election Day and must be received by the city Board of Elections by Nov. 10.

So while many Democrats in New York City will coast to victory on Nov. 3, Rose’s House race will likely drag well into the month as both sides monitor the count and potentially fight over every ballot.

Congressional Rep. Max Rose speaks with with officials from the New York City Uniformed Fire Officers Association, Oct. 20, 2020.
Congressional Rep. Max Rose speaks with with officials from the New York City Uniformed Fire Officers Association, Oct. 20, 2020.
Clifford Michel/THE CITY

Due to state election laws, the BOE, which didn’t respond to requests for comment, can’t begin counting absentee ballots until Nov. 11, seven days after Election Day.

“Given the significant number of mail-in ballots, we are fully preparing for results to not be known on election night,” Jonas Edwards-Jenks, a spokesperson for Rose’s campaign, told THE CITY in a statement. “Every vote must be counted and we will be ready to fight in every way possible to make sure that happens.”

A spokesperson for Malliotakis’ campaign, Rob Ryan, said, “We expect a hard-fought race where every vote will count. With that many absentee ballots it may be a while before they are counted and we have a final return.”

Swing-District Push

The contest is one of about two dozen swing-district races nationwide that will help determine whether Democrats retain control of the House. Rose was part of a wave of moderate Democrats that helped the party win a majority in 2018 when he beat Donovan by six percentage points after waging a campaign that focused heavily on local issues.

But Malliotakis’ focus on “law and order” and her promise to back fellow Republican Donald Trump, who won the Staten Island part of the district by 10 percentage points four years ago, has made inroads.

An onslaught of negative advertising hinted at what a recent poll made clear: The race is extremely tight. An NBC 4/Marist College poll showed Malliotakis up 48% to 46%, which is within the margin of error.

House GOP candidate Nicole Malliotakis
House GOP candidate Nicole Malliotakis
Clifford Michel/THE CITY

Both campaigns are prepared to deploy volunteers, staff and election lawyers to oversee the counting of absentee ballots in a district that hasn’t reelected a Democrat since 1978. Campaigns can send representatives to watch the count in BOE offices and can object to individual ballots by invoking arcane laws.

A spokesperson for Rose’s campaign said that 26,038 had been returned as of Oct. 26. Malliotakis’ spokesperson noted that not all absentee ballots would be cast.

Jerry Goldfeder, who is serving as the Rose campaign’s election lawyer, told THE CITY he does “expect to” be at BOE offices the week after Election Day to monitor the count.

When asked if he thought rampant ballot challenges might ensue, Goldfeder replied, “I hope not.”

‘Be Patient’

It did come to that, though, earlier this year in a close Democratic primary between Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney — who represents the Upper East Side and parts of Queens and Brooklyn — and her challenger, Suraj Patel.

Some 61,828 absentee ballots were cast, compared to 41,000 in-person votes amid the pandemic. Patel trailed by only 648 votes on Primary Day and filed a lawsuit to dispute 1,000 ballots. But a judge ruled against him in August.

The city BOE was overwhelmed during the June primaries, which drew nearly 400,000 absentee ballots.

Goldfeder offered advice to absentee voters who haven’t mailed in their ballots yet.

“If you haven’t voted please make certain that the ballot is completed properly. Fill in the oval completely,” he said. “And it’s going to take a while to count all the absentee ballots, so be patient.”

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