Thursday, November 12, 2009

Beating The Challenge Flag

Last week in Upstate New York's 23rd Congressional district, Conservative Doug Hoffman, trailing in the polls by 5,335 votes, conceded the election to Democrat Bill Owens. Believing that he had barely won his own town of Oswego, and only 7% of the vote left to count, Hoffman graciously offered congratulations to Owens.

That opened the door for Nancy Pelosi to quickly swear in Owens in time for Saturday's House vote on Health Care Reform, a rare weekend vote. Like a football team that knows it must run a play quickly before the challenge flag is thrown by the opposing coach, Pelosi and her cohorts believe they got the snap off in time. The shiny, new Congressman Owens, who throughout his campaign opposed health care reform measures, helped seal the "victory" on Saturday for his party.

But Hoffman's concession may have been a bit premature. There were problems with the counting of ballots in Oswego, we now learn, that may have altered Hoffman's decision on election night. On election night, Hoffman's camp believed they had won Oswego by only 500 votes, but inspectors found that the margin was more than triple that amount at 1,748 votes. According to Hoffman campaign spokesman Rob Ryan, "I don’t know if we would have conceded on election night. I’m someone who doesn’t like to look back. But would we have taken longer to make a decision on election night? Probably, if we knew it was only 3,000 votes making the difference."

Despite the fact that New York State had sent a letter to the House Clerk explaining that it had not certified the election because no winner had been declared, with Owens still leading by 3,000 votes it was ruled legal for Pelosi to officially swear in the new member. Along with Democrat John Garamendi, who also won a special election in California, Pelosi had the 218 votes needed to pass the House version of health care reform legislation.

But there are still 10,200 military and overseas absentee ballots to be counted. While Hoffman's chances to overcome a deficit of 3,000 votes is still remote, it is possible. What that would mean for the vote on Saturday is unclear, but it is certain that Owens would be forced to vacate the seat. Republican Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana said he voted in favor of the bill only after he saw that the Democrats had the needed 218 votes. If Hoffman is indeed the ultimate victor, would they have a re-vote? And would Cao reverse his vote if the Democrats only had 217 votes?

It remains to be seen, and the ramifications will interesting. It will also be fascinating to watch the reactions of the House leadership if this turns foul for them.

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