11/12/2009 11:42 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

NY-23 Keeps on Going

Just when you thought it was safe to move on to another topic, the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District gets a little more interesting. A story this morning by the Syracuse Post-Standard's Mark Weiner (via alert Pollster reader md) reports that the margin of victory for Democrat Bill Owens over Conservative Doug Hoffman has shrunk from 5,335 votes with 93% of the vote counted on election night to 3,026 votes after a "re-canvassing" that counted additional precincts and found a roughly 1,200 vote error in Hoffman's favor in Oswego County:

The new vote totals mean the race will be decided by absentee ballots, of which about 10,200 were distributed, said John Conklin, communications director for the state Board of Elections.

Under a new law in New York that extended deadlines, military and overseas ballots received by this coming Monday (and postmarked by Nov. 2) will be counted. Standard absentee ballots had to be returned this past Monday.

Hoffman conceded the race on election night, and Owens was sworn in by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just in time to provide an additional "yes" vote on heath care reform legislation. Weiner explains how that was possible given the ongoing vote count:

Conklin said the state sent a letter to the House Clerk last week explaining that no winner had been determined in the 23rd District, and therefore the state had not certified the election. But the letter noted that Owens still led by about 3,000 votes, and that the special election was not contested -- two factors that legally allowed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to swear in Owens on Friday.

"We sent a letter to the clerk laying out the totals," Conklin said. "The key is that Hoffman conceded, which means the race is not contested. However, all ballots will be counted, and if the result changes, Owens will have to be removed."

While the re-canvass narrows the race from a 4.1 percentage point Owens margin (49.3% to 45.2%) on election night to a slightly better than 2 point margin now,** it is still very unlikely that Hoffman can overtake Owens on the absentee votes. Hoffman would need to defeat Owens by a margin of at least 2:1 among absentee voters, assuming that most of the 10,200 ballots were returned and that Scozzafava's vote is 10% or less. Not even the ill-fated PPP poll had Hoffman ahead by 2:1 districtwide. And Hoffman's margin would need to be larger if Scozzafava's vote is bigger or if the number of returned ballots is smaller.

Also, the narrowing does not change the polling story that I focused on in this week's column. I was working with the AP vote totals reported by the Saratoga Springs Saratogian that had already corrected the Oswego County error and showed Hoffman leading by roughly three percentage points. So the closer count does make the polling "error" smaller, but only a little smaller.

**The Post-Standard story provides new vote totals for Hoffman and Owens but not Scozzafava, so I can't calculate the precise percentages.

Update: The Watertown DailyTimes published results-by-county this morning that give Owens a 3,176 vote margin.  They also say that only "about 5,400" absentee ballots left to be counted, which would make it virtually impossible for Hoffman to overtake Owens.