ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A New York judge ruled Friday that Republican Claudia Tenney defeated U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi by 109 votes in the nation's last undecided congressional race.
The ruling by Judge Scott DelConte could clear the way for Tenney to be sworn in as the representative for central New York's 22nd Congressional District, barring emergency intervention by a state appeals court.
She previously was the district's representative for one term, until she was defeated by Brindisi, a Democrat, in 2018.
DelConte's ruling came after he spent three months reviewing ballot challenges and trying to fix a myriad of problems with vote tabulation. He rejected an argument by Brindisi's lawyers that certification of the election results should be delayed until an appeals court had a chance to review the case.
DelConte's order directed New York to certify results immediately.
The judge said even if the results end up changing after any litigation, New York could simply amend its certification. He issued his ruling hours after a last public hearing, in which he told Brindisi's lawyers that he was disinclined to delay the results any further.
“I’ve been asked to stop this election ... and that’s a very very high burden,” he said.
Tenney has maintained a small lead even as months of litigation revealed problems with ballots that either weren’t counted properly or were improperly rejected.
“I’m honored to have won this race," Tenney said. "It was a hard-fought campaign and I thank Anthony Brindisi for his service. Now that every legal vote has been counted, it’s time for the results to be certified. The voters need a voice in Congress, and I look forward to getting to work on behalf of New York’s 22nd Congressional District.”
Tallies have shifted as county election officials counted a flood of absentee ballots and courts weighed in on which challenged ballots could be counted.
Brindisi had argued that once the election gets certified and Tenney is sworn in, only Congress has the power to remove her, not the courts.
He's pushing for an audit that could trigger a hand recount, which he said Friday “is the only way to resolve this race.” Brindisi said he was "shocked and surprised" by the judge's decision.
“With the margin so thin, the ever changing tally, and the countless errors that have occurred arriving at today’s final number we can’t afford to wonder here,” Brindisi said Friday. “We have to get it right. Because this is not a raffle, this is a congressional election.”
But the judge said Friday only the U.S. House can order a new election or recount at this point. A new law requiring hand recounts in tight races only takes effect for 2021 races, according to DelConte.
DelConte said Brindisi can still challenge the election in the House and potentially unseat Tenney. The U.S. House can unseat a member who is “not truly the lawful winner of an election,” the judge wrote.
“Indeed, the House now has, as it had since the start of this proceeding, the sole authority to seat or refuse to seat Tenney or Brindisi, or to seat one of them conditionally during the course of this litigation, including any appeals," he wrote.
Democrats control the U.S. House with 221 seats, while Republicans have 211 seats. The 22nd Congressional District is one of three vacant seats, according to Congress’s website — the other two vacant seats are the result of a death and a January resignation.