No clear winner has emerged in the Smithtown Republican primary for town supervisor as a narrow 39-vote margin at the close of polls Sept. 12 left the outcome undecided, pending a count of absentee ballots.
Smithtown Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) holds a razor-thin lead on incumbent town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R), 2,822 votes to 2,783, in the unofficial election results posted Sept. 13 by the Suffolk County Board of Elections.
“By definition, it’s too close to call,” said Nick LaLota, the Republican commissioner for the county board of elections. “The number of paper ballots outstanding exceeds the margin of victory by machine. It is literally too close to call.”
LaLota said the board of elections has received 322 absentee ballots as of Sept. 13. He said he expects the county may still receive a few dozen additional ballots over the next week. Absentee ballots must have been postmarked by Sept. 11 and received by the county by Sept. 19 to be valid.
“I am confident that we will remain victorious once they are opened,” Wehrheim said Wednesday morning.
The councilman said his campaign, along with Smithtown Republican Committee Chairman Bill Ellis, ran an extensive absentee voter outreach campaign leading up to the primary race.
“A lot is going to depend on how the absentee ballots go,” Ellis said in a phone interview. “We worked aggressively and I believe a lot of the absentees we had contact with voted for the entire team.”
LaLota said he anticipates by Sept. 25 the Suffolk County Board of Elections will have all the voting machines and paper ballots to be checked, and will have given sufficient notice to both campaigns in order to begin counting absentee votes.
The process of counting paper ballots involves opening each absentee envelope, allowing the ballot to be reviewed by a board of elections inspector and campaign observers, potentially including attorneys representing the campaigns. If there are any objections to the validity of a ballot it will be recorded.
The final outcome of the primary race may remain unknown until late September.
“With 300-plus ballots, I’d assume it’s going to take a few days,” LaLota said. “Attorneys have been known to gum up the process.”
Vecchio wrote the primary’s outcome was “still questionable” in an email statement, and that he was uncertain about the odds of being declared the Republican candidate after the absentee ballots were counted.
This is not the first time Vecchio has been challenged by his own party in a primary for town supervisor. In 2013, he faced off against former town councilman Robert Creighton (R) and prior to that, Jane Conway in 2005. In both of these primaries, Vecchio had a decisive victory at the polls.
“Against both Jane Conway and Bob Creighton, the results were substantially in Mr. Vecchio’s favor,” Ellis said. “Never has he lost on the [voting] machines to anyone.”
If Wehrheim remains victorious, he will be running for Smithtown town supervisor on the Republican, Conservative and Independent party lines in November.
Wehrheim currently has approximately $59,000 available in his war chest to spend on the general election, according to the 11-day pre-primary financial disclosure report filed with New York State Board of Elections.
“We won’t start campaigning until [the absentee ballots] are opened,” Wehrheim said. “Once they are open and the decision is finalized, then we will begin to carry on for the general election if we are the successful candidate.”
The winner of the Republican town supervisor primary will face off Nov. 7 against Democratic Party candidate William Holst and Kristen Slevin, running under her own None of the Above campaign.