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LaLota replaces Zeldin in the race to represent New York's 1st District

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J.D. Allen
/
WSHU
Republican Nick LaLota celebrates on stage at Suffolk County GOP headquarters in Patchogue his victory to represent New York's 1st District, replacing Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1).

Republican Nick LaLota defeats Democrat Bridget Fleming in the race to represent the 1st District. The seat was left vacant by Rep. Lee Zeldin’s run for governor.

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LaLota’s campaign pushed a national Republican agenda.

He wants to reduce inflation and curb COVID-19 vaccination requirements, which he blames on President Biden. He supports adding police to a protected class to impose harsher penalties for violence against officers.

LaLota comes from a family of law enforcement, and he is a Navy veteran.

“Well, we listened before we talk. And we asked voters what mattered most to them," he said. "And what the voters told us what mattered most to them was having a better economy and securing our border and increasing our public safety.”

While Fleming served as a former prosecutor, Southampton Town Board member, and Suffolk County legislator, his victory catapults LaLota’s political career after working in the background over the past decade — in congressional and state Senate offices, as Republican commissioner on the Suffolk County Board of Elections, and most recently, as chief of staff for the county Legislature.

He also served on the Amityville board of trustees from 2013 to 2016.

Prior to politics, LaLota served overseas on three separate occasions in twenty countries. He manned guided-missile ships and a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. He was awarded a Joint Service Commendation Medal. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and has a law degree from Hofstra University.

His father was a Nassau County police officer and his grandfathers were NYPD officers.

Election night snafu

There was a delay in counting ballots after polls closed Tuesday night in Suffolk County until early this morning. The local board of elections reported failures before midnight in uploading digitized ballots from all 24 regional polling hubs.

Over 1,440 memory cards containing all of the results in Suffolk County were transported to a central county computer system in Yaphank. Suffolk County Republican Party chair Jesse Garcia said the decision was to safeguard election security. "To make sure accuracy and integrity of elections, we must follow the systems in place," he said.

LaLota, who has operated many election nights, said it's better to be patient for all of the hundreds of thousands of ballots to be counted accurately.

He said it's common practice to move digitized ballots when glitches occur. However, it is unusual that all regional polling locations shifted to this fail-safe measure.

He blamed a recent cybersecurity attack in Suffolk County for local election officials moving digitized ballots to a central location for processing — out of an abundance of caution.

"What voters should be most confident about is the bipartisan nature of the all the county boards of elections in New York State — that for every one Republican employee, there was a Democrat employee," LaLota said. "There's a system of checks and balances. Nothing can happen in our county boards of elections without bipartisan approval. It's the backbone of our democracy here in New York State."

When he takes office in January, LaLota said he would try to require voters to present identification at the polls, and would seek to limit the use of absentee ballots — both an attempt to limit the potential for voter fraud.

"A federal voter ID law — They exist right now in 36 states," he said. "I think that for federal elections, the federal government can and should have a voter ID law to increase the reliability and the confidence in our elections."

This could be more important as the state grows its early voting. First approved in 2019, New York expanded early voting with more polling locations compared to last year. On Long Island, there were 27 designated locations in both Nassau and Suffolk. Early voting can also be done at the boards of election in both counties.

LaLota, who voted early this election, said it’s a more accessible option for voters who are far from their registered address.

Over the past week, New York had over 1 million voters cast their ballot early before Tuesday's midterm election. Democrats typically vote in stronger numbers for early and absentee voting, so the early results could favor them, but Republicans swept the vote on Election Day itself.

Over 120,000 people voted early in Nassau County, a 55% increase from the 2020 election. Around 98,000 people voted early in Suffolk County, an 80% increase from 2020.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.
Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.