July 9, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan
A manual recount is underway at the Board of Elections to determine a winner in the contentious Queens District Attorney race. The count is expected to wrap up no sooner than next Friday.
The recount of more than 93,000 ballots, which began earlier today at a BOE facility in Middle Village, was spurred by a mere 16-vote margin between public defender Tiffany Cabán and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.
BOE staffers began cracking open nearly 800 double-locked blue bins this morning containing every ballot that was counted in the race. Staffers began the process by sorting ballots by their election districts—a process that is expected to take up to two days to complete. From there, every vote will be tallied by hand.
The manual recount will allow BOE staff to count votes that may have been missed by the voting machines in the June 25 Democratic primary, including ballots where voters may have used a checkmark or circled a candidates name, rather than coloring in one of the machine-readable bubbles.
The entire recount process will take an estimated minimum of 10 days, according to BOE, with staffers working six days a week.
While the recount process began, lawyers for Cabán, Katz and the BOE met in Queens County Supreme Court this morning to discuss making a determination on the validity of 114 disputed affidavit ballots. The ballots have not yet been counted due to errors in the filling out of information by the voter. The majority of these ballots—roughly 70—were discounted because the voter did not clearly state their party affiliation.
Judge John Ingram concluded the hearing by setting another court date for July 17, where any issues that arise from the recount will be presented. A ruling on the 114 ballots will be made after the recount concludes, but only if the results are still close enough for the uncounted ballots to have an impact.
In recent days, Cabán’s team has been pushing for Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign into law a bill that passed through the state legislature last month that would loosen the requirements for validating an affidavit ballot. The bill, passed in mid-June, would no longer nullify the affidavit ballots of voters over technicalities such as not including a past address on the envelope, and would count the vote as long as the voter “substantially complied” with the form.
“This bill is necessary because the current law is often exploited by those seeking to invalidate ballots by employing hyper-technical legal challenges to ballots in an all-too-often successful effort to deny a person their constitutional right to vote,” the Senate bill memo reads.
It is unclear whether the law could be applied to the DA election, even if signed in the coming days. But with such a narrow margin in the race, it could potentially have an effect on the outcome, if applied.
Cuomo has not yet had the bill brought to his desk.
“As we have said from the beginning, and as the New York Times agreed today, every valid vote in this election must be counted,” the Cabán team said in a statement earlier today. “Over the coming days and weeks, we will continue to fight in court and at the Board of Elections to make sure Queens voters are not disenfranchised. Melinda Katz said on election night that every vote should be counted. We hope her campaign will join us in court to make sure that happens – and join our call on Governor Cuomo to quickly sign already-passed legislation that could prevent otherwise valid votes from being thrown out by technicalities. We remain confident that when all the votes are counted, we will win.”
The Katz campaign, however, vehemently disagrees with Caban’s attempt to push the legislation through, seeing this as the latest in a string of attempts to swing the vote in her favor.
“The Cabán Campaign will try to do everything in their power to manipulate the vote totals in their favor. First, they declared victory before thousands of paper votes were counted, then they wanted to cherry-pick 20 ballots to be counted from their supporters,” said Katz campaign spokesperson Matthew Rey, referencing the fact that the Cabán team previously asked BOE to reconsider only 20 of the 114 invalidated votes that are now being discussed in court.
Katz’s team also does not see the legislation as being as transformative as the Cabán campaign is presenting it to be.
“Now, their latest Hail Mary attempt focuses on legislation that won’t do what they claim it will,” Rey said. “We have said from day one that we want all valid votes to be counted, and expect the process to come to a speedy conclusion that voters deserve.”