NY-23: Not over yet?

A recanvassing of votes in the NY-23 special Congressional election has turned up a surprise.  Bill Owens, the Democrat who won the seat and ended a long period of Republican hegemony, has already been sworn into office, but the vote counts now show Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman much closer than thought on Election Night.  Thought to be down over 5300 votes, the final counts in the district show Hoffman trailing by 3,026 — with over 10,000 absentee ballots left to count:

Conservative Doug Hoffman conceded the race in the 23rd Congressional District last week after receiving two pieces of grim news for his campaign: He was down 5,335 votes with 93 percent of the vote counted on election night, and he had barely won his stronghold in Oswego County.

As it turns out, neither was true. …

Democratic Rep. Bill Owens was quickly sworn into office on Friday, a day before the rare weekend vote in the House of Representatives. His support sealed his party’s narrow victory on the health care legislation.

Now a recanvassing in the 11-county district shows that Owens’ lead has narrowed to 3,026 votes over Hoffman, 66,698 to 63,672, according to the latest unofficial results from the state Board of Elections.

Jim Geraghty wonders whether this would could mean that Hoffman might still prevail:

Note that Hoffman conceded the race on Election Night. This may get really interesting, or it may simply reveal that Bill Ownes won with fewer votes than we thought.

It’s almost certainly the latter.  It is not outside mathematical possibility that Hoffman could make up the difference, but it’s pushing the limits of probability to the breaking point.  Remember that when most of these absentee ballots were cast, Dede Scozzafava was still in the race, with the Republican endorsement.  Hoffman didn’t catch up until the last two weeks, and the polling didn’t change until the final week, which finally pushed Scozzafava out of the race.

In order to win the election, Hoffman would have to get 3,027 more ballots than Owens while holding off Scozzafava supporters.  That would require him to win more than half of all absentees, mostly cast at a time when Hoffman trailed the other two candidates.  He would need to win 6,027 votes while Hoffman got no more than 3,000 and Scozzafava no more than 1200, or something similar. Hoffman would definitely have to win at least a majority in order to gain that 3,027 margin that would allow him to win the race.

Possible?  Yes.  But very, very, very improbable.  It’s much more likely that the three split the remaining absentee ballots equally, or that Hoffman came in second or third among them.  The rational potential for gain by Hoffman would be in the low hundreds, not the thousands, in a three-person race.

It does bring up an interesting point.  Now that Owens has taken the oath of office, the count of absentee ballots is technically moot.  The House would have to reject Owens in a floor challenge in order to seat Hoffman instead.  That’s even less likely than Hoffman winning the election with a 3026-vote gap prior to the absentee ballot count.

Update: Hot Air reader Bob S forwards this link:

As it stands now, Bill Owens may be in Washington and voting the Pelosi Party line but when the vote is certified he may be ousted.  The state Board of Elections indicated that “…all ballots will be counted, and if the result changes, Owens will have to be removed.”  Concession speech or not, if the voters in the 23rd District elected Doug Hoffman and not Bill Owens, then Hoffman will be the Representative.

Concessions hold no legal status.  They’re a nicety.  One of my left-of-center Twitter friends @Rawls also concurred.  However, given the wide gap in ballots and the number remaining to be counted, don’t expect this to be much of an issue.