The race for the 23rd Congressional District is finally, mathematically, over.
Rep. William L. Owens could lose all 3,072 absentee ballots left to be counted and still win the race.
Mr. Owens led the race by 3,176 votes after the 11 counties' boards of elections recanvassed the machine vote. The Plattsburgh Democrat has ceded just 71 votes of his lead back to Conservative Party candidate Douglas L. Hoffman during absentee ballot counting this week.
The congressman may erase that deficit when seven counties continue tabulating absentee votes today. That's because St. Lawrence County, where Mr. Owens had his biggest election night margin, has just started counting.
Fulton, Hamilton, Madison and Oneida counties — which Mr. Hoffman carried on election night — have reported complete results.
Mr. Hoffman carried Oswego County by 1,748 votes, but has collected just four more votes than Mr. Owens among absentees so far. Oswego elections officials are 82 percent done with their absentee count.
Republican Dierdre K. Scozzafava, who suspended her congressional campaign three days before Election Day, continues to collect significantly more absentee votes than she did at the ballot box. Ms. Scozzafava received 5.5 percent of the vote on Election Day, but has been picked by 19.1 percent of absentee voters so far.
As Mr. Owens' victory became certain, the Gouverneur Times alleged Thursday that a computer virus had "tainted" results and "cast doubt on the accuracy of the counts retrieved from any of the machines."
The article did not note that all voters in Clinton and Essex counties — as well as some voters in Oneida County — used non-computerized lever machines on Election Day.
Anna E. Svizzero, operations director for the state elections board, told state commissioners last week that there were some voting machine failures on Election Day.
"We certainly have more lever machine problems than (ballot marking device) or scanner issues," she said.
The state is moving from lever machines to new handicapped-accessible voting systems to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act.
The director said Dominion brand machines in Lewis, Seneca and Schuyler counties failed — but "it wasn't countywide. It was a handful of machines within those counties. It wasn't seen as a catastrophic failure."
Lewis is in the 23rd Congressional District, but the other two counties are not.
She said the primary cause of voting machine failure was a memory issue related to the way ballots were programmed to record multiple votes for one office.
"If the test votes were cast in a certain way, the machine would freeze up and it would not permit you to move forward," she said. "So there were no votes calculated on the voting machines and those ballots were the ones that had to be hand counted."
She said in reviewing the county board ballot styles, the vendor found 10 counties where a change had to be made prior to Election Day. Those changes were made, but other such ballots were missed due to human error.
"So, in the field on Election Day, the problem did arise," she said. "The scanner did freeze up."
Ms. Svizzero said in all instances where the scanner froze, the ballots were hand counted.
"That's certainly one of the assets of the paper ballot — that there will never be a vote that's lost," she said.
Ms. Svizzero said all other issues were related to "paper jams and inexperience with the system and that those issues will be overcome with more time."