Razor-Thin Margin In East Hampton Town Justice Race

Andrew Strong, Lisa Rana.

On an Election Day that saw Democrats swamp Republican candidates in town-wide races across East Hampton, one race bucked the trend. When votes cast for East Hampton Town Justice were counted, Lisa Rana, the Republican incumbent seeking her fifth four-year term, had eked out a 116-vote margin over her Democratic rival, Andrew Strong.

The election will now be determined by the counting of absentee ballots. According to the Suffolk County Republican Commissioner at the Board of Elections, Nicholas LaLota, 1054 absentee ballots were mailed out. As of Friday, November 8, 755 had been returned. Tuesday, November 12 was the deadline for ballots to be returned by mail for most voters, excepting those serving in the military overseas, who had an extra six days. All returned ballots had to be postmarked by November 5.

The ballots will be unsealed on November 18.

The Board of Elections is a non-partisan organization in which both major parties work together to ensure honest elections.

As of November 8, Rana stood with 3012 votes, just under 51 percent, to Strong’s 2896, or 49 percent. There were two write-in votes cast for unknown candidates.

The race for justice was significant in a couple of ways. First, while it is impossible to tell the number of actual voters from the raw numbers, since some will cast a so called “bullet ballot,” that is, voting for one race and one candidate only on the entire ballot, the data does tell us that more voters voted on the town justice race than any other race on the ballot. A total of 5910 votes were cast for justice, as compared to, say, town supervisor, a race in which 5407 votes were cast, a difference of nine percent. Peter Van Scoyoc, the incumbent supervisor running on the Democratic line, won easily. The race for the two town board slots, both won by Democratic incumbents, drew about 5467 votes.

While it is much more difficult to estimate the total number of voters in the Town Trustee race, in which nine slots had to be filled, it appears roughly 5180 participated. That race had the single biggest vote-getter on Election Day, James Grimes, who pulled in an amazing 4906 votes. Richard Drew, also running for trustee, was the only other candidate to garner over 4000 votes, at 4492. All nine trustees elected had a D next to their names.

Beyond being the most voted-on race, the race for justice resulted in a large amount of ticket splitting. Strong was the only Democrat on the ticket to draw less than 3000 votes, total. A total of 1136 votes of Rana’s 3012 were on a third-party line.

It has been six years since a Town Justice race has been contested. In 2013, Justice Steven Tekulsky won on the Democratic line, defeating Carl Irace on the Republican side. The race was for an open seat, as Cathy Cahill had retired. As with the current race, both candidates in 2013 had third-party lines, an option for voters opposed to a particular major party. Tekulsky drew more than 3600 votes on the Democratic line alone, finishing with over 4000 votes, numbers out of reach for Strong this year. Irace drew 1785 votes on the Republican line, along with another 864 third party line votes. Rana has exceeded both those totals.

Since then, the two major parties have acted in a bipartisan manner when it comes to Town Justice, with Democrats supporting Rana in 2015, and Republicans supporting Tekulsky in 2017. That ended in 2019, when the Democratic party interviewed several candidates in its search for an opponent to Rana. They also interviewed Rana for the job, as well, but settled on newcomer Strong.

Strong had started off the long Tuesday evening of vote-counting with a 10-percentage-point lead in early returns, but Rana’s numbers kept inching up as more of the town’s 19 districts filed their results.

Many of the town’s districts filed their results long after almost all of Suffolk County had finished counting their votes.

For example, at 10:30 PM, while East Hampton still had eight of its 19 of its districts not counted, in the towns of Southold, Southampton, Riverhead, and Shelter Island, which total 87 voting districts, all but two had been tallied up.

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