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NY Senate Democrats, riding absentee wave, claim a supermajority victory

Jon Campbell
New York State Team

ALBANY –  State Senate Democrats say they’ve seen enough: They will have a supermajority when they return to Albany in January.

On Election Day, a strong showing from Republicans had party leaders claiming they would cut into the Democrats’ majority in the Legislature’s upper chamber, billing it as a repudiation of one-party rule in New York state.

Then came the wave of absentee ballots that overwhelmingly broke Democrats’ way, making clear the party would actually gain seats despite the Republicans’ boasts.

By Monday, Senate Democrats claimed victory in 42 of the Senate’s 63 districts, enough to claim a two-thirds, veto-proof majority that will give them crucial final approval over legislative redistricting in 2022.

That included an assumed win in the 40th Senate district in the Hudson Valley, where incumbent Sen. Pete Harckham, a Westchester Democrat, had not yet declared victory as of Monday afternoon but was narrowing in on Republican Rob Astorino with more than 15,000 ballots left to count.

“By sending a supermajority of Senate Democrats to Albany, New Yorkers have made it clear that they want government to keep working for them and standing up for New York values and for the hardworking men and women of this state,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said at a Capitol news conference.

Democrats expanding Albany majority

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins speaks to reporters during a new conference to discuss legislation for limousine safety at the state Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Albany, N.Y.

Democrats won back the Senate majority in 2018 after Republicans controlled the chamber for the better part of the prior century. It gave Democrats control of the Senate, Assembly and governor's office.

It had a considerable impact on policy in New York, with Democrats approving various election reforms and criminal-justice overhauls — include a controversial measure limiting cash bail — that Senate Republicans had stymied for years.

This year, Democrats held 40 of the Senate’s 63 seats heading into Election Day, while Republicans held 21 and two were vacant.

Mirroring a national trend during the COVID-19 pandemic, GOP voters turned out strong in person on Election Day, leaving Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt to declare his party would win as many as 29 seats and significantly cut into the Democratic majority.

"We believe firmly that when all these votes are counted, we are going to be coming back with significantly more members than we had last year and more than a lot of folks across the state thought we would have,” Ortt said Nov. 4.

It wasn’t to be.

New York voters returned at least 1.9 million absentee ballots, empowered by the state expanding absentee eligibility this year due to the virus.

The vast majority broke the Democrats way, allowing the party’s candidates to quickly make up ground and overtake Republicans.

Democrats pick up seats in Rochester

Samra Brouk, Democratic candidate for New York's 55th Senate District.

Democrats were able to flip at least four seats previously held by Republicans, including in Rochester, where Democrats Samra Brouk and Jeremy Cooney won seats previously held by retiring Republican Sens. Rich Funke and Joseph Robach, respectively.

Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, Ulster County, declared victory in the wide-ranging 46th district, which stretches from the Albany area into the Catskills and Hudson Valley. The seat was previously held by retiring Republican Sen. George Amedore.

Hinchey was one of the several Democrats to overcome an Election Day deficit with a strong showing in absentee votes.

"This was a mandate from New York voters," said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, who leads his party's re-election efforts. "A mandate for Leader Stewart-Cousins to keep us moving forward."

In a statement, Ortt said Senate Republicans will return with “an even louder voice” in 2021, when the Legislature is next in session.

“New Yorkers thought one-party control was bad, more Democrats in the New York State Senate will usher in a new era of radical, increasingly socialist policies, unlike anything before seen in this state,” Ortt said in a statement Monday.

Absentee ballot counting continues throughout the state, though it has been complicated by COVID-19 outbreaks in some counties.

In the Hudson Valley, the race between incumbent Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale, Ulster County, and Republican challenger Mike Martucci remains unresolved as a court decides on absentee ballots that were disputed during the count.

Martucci led by more than 10,000 votes on Election Day, but Metzger – like most Democrats – has outperformed him in absentee voting.

Includes reporting by The Journal News staff writer Mark Lungariello.

Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.

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