Politics

AP Decision Notes: What to expect in the race to replace George Santos

WASHINGTON — (AP) — The epilogue to Republican George Santos’ short and tumultuous congressional career will be written Tuesday as voters in New York’s third congressional district decide who will complete the remaining 11 months of his unfinished term.

In December, Santos became only the sixth U.S. Representative to be expelled from the chamber by his colleagues after a blistering report from the House Ethics Committee found "overwhelming evidence" that he had broken the law on multiple occasions and exploited his office for personal enrichment.

Vying to replace him are former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, the Democratic nominee, and Nassau County legislator Mazi Pilip, the nominee for both the Republican and Conservative parties.

Suozzi represented a version of this Long Island-area district in Congress for six years but gave up the seat after an unsuccessful run for governor in 2022. He has held other elected office on Long Island dating back to the mid-1990s, first as mayor of Glen Cove and later as Nassau County executive.

Pilip is an Ethiopian-born veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, where she served as a gunsmith in a paratrooper unit. In 2021, she was elected to the Nassau County legislature. Although elected on the Republican and Conservative party lines, public records indicate she remains a registered Democrat. On the campaign trail, she has declined to say whether she voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020.

Santos says he doesn't plan to vote in the special election.

The current incarnation of the third congressional district was created about a year and a half ago, but it has been a key focal point in an ongoing battle of wills being waged across the country between Democrats and Republicans over redistricting and, ultimately, control of the U.S. House.

In 2022, a New York court rejected a map drawn by Democratic lawmakers, saying that it had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered. That plan was replaced with a much more Republican-friendly map that created the current District 3 and played a key role in the election of Santos and other New York Republicans whose victories helped Republicans reclaim control of the U.S. House. But District 3 in its current form will cease to exist early next year after New York's highest court ordered yet another congressional map to be drawn for this year's elections.

Republicans hold a narrow majority in the U.S. House, 219-212, with four vacancies.

Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:

SPECIAL ELECTION DAY

The special election in New York’s third congressional district will be held Tuesday. Polls close at 9 p.m. ET.

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

The Associated Press will provide coverage for one contest in New York on Tuesday: the special election in the third congressional district. The candidates on the ballot are Suozzi and Pilip. Pilip’s name appears on the ballot twice under both the Republican and Conservative party lines.

WHO GETS TO VOTE

Any voter registered in New York’s third congressional district may participate in this special election.

DECISION NOTES

Under its current boundaries, District 3 has a larger share of both Republicans and independents than the rest of the state. More than 28% of District 3 voters are Republicans, compared to 22% statewide. The share of independents in the district is 28%, compared to 24% statewide. And while more District 3 voters are registered as Democrats than in any other category, they make up only 39% in the district, compared to 49% statewide.

These numbers have helped Republicans find success at the ballot box in District 3. Although voters in the district preferred Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden over Donald Trump by five- and eight-point margins in the last two presidential elections, Santos beat his 2022 Democratic opponent, Robert Zimmerman, by almost eight percentage points. By comparison, Santos lost his first bid for Congress in 2020 against Suozzi by almost 13 points under the old district lines.

Lee Zeldin, the 2022 GOP nominee for governor, carried District 3 by a 12-point margin in his unsuccessful bid against Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The GOP advantage is clearer in the part of the district that falls in Nassau County, which contributed 82% of the district’s total vote in 2022. Both Santos and Zeldin received a higher share of the vote and had bigger vote margins in Nassau County than they did districtwide. The part of the district located in Queens is more competitive, but it makes up a much smaller share of the overall vote. Santos lost in Queens by four percentage points, while Zeldin narrowly outperformed Hochul by a margin of nearly two and a half percentage points.

On Tuesday, the shortest, most direct path to victory would be to win in Nassau County. The bigger the win in Nassau, the harder it is for the trailing candidate to pull out a win. Suozzi would likely need to win by a substantial margin in Queens to make up for even a modest lead by Pilip in Nassau.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

An automatic recount will be triggered if the vote margin is equal to or less than 0.5 percentage points. The AP may declare a winner in a race that is eligible for a recount if it can determine the lead is too large for a recount or legal challenge to change the outcome.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE

As of Nov. 1, 2023, there were nearly 571,000 voters registered in District 3.

A detailed breakdown of the amount of pre-Election Day votes cast in the district in the 2022 general election is not available, but in the gubernatorial race that year, about 29% of the vote in all of Nassau and Queens was cast before Election Day.

Early voting began Feb. 3 and concludes on Sunday.

HOW LONG DOES VOTE COUNTING USUALLY TAKE

In the 2022 general election, the AP first reported results in the district at about 9:02 p.m. ET, or about two minutes after polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 1:34 a.m. ET with about 94% of total votes counted.

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Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

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A previous version of this story stated that Pilip was a former paratrooper. This has been updated to clarify that Pilip served in a paratrooper unit, but as a gunsmith and not as a parachutist.

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