Queens District Attorney Race Heads to Automatic Recount

Just over a week after Tiffany Cabán declared victory in the race for Queens district attorney, a last-minute twist placed her opponent, Melinda Katz, ahead by 20 votes. The unexpected turn has forced a manual recount and will send both candidates to court.Cabán, a public defender, led Queens Borough President Katz by 1.3 percentage points when she claimed victory in the contentious Democratic primary on June 25. With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Cabán held the lead with 33,814 votes over Katz’s 32,724 votes.

The 31-year-old, who ran a grassroots campaign and received the endorsement of several members of Congress, was not worried about the thousands of absentee ballots that needed to be counted, her campaign told The New York Times at the time. The campaign claimed that the 3,400 absentee ballots would likely be divided among the seven candidates on the ballot.But what happened may change the primary results completely. A count of paper ballots not counted on primary night pushed 53-year-old Katz, an establishment favorite, ahead by just 20 votes. Katz reportedly won 1,901 of the paper ballots counted on July 3, while Cabán won 751 votes.

The minimal margin sent the race into a manual recount, according to The New York Times. A margin of victory under 0.5 percent of the total vote automatically forces the New York City Board of Elections to conduct a manual recount before declaring a winner.

That margin fell to just 16 votes after six affidavit ballots that had initially been classified as invalid were counted in favor of Cabán. Affidavit ballots, or provisional ballots, are given to voters who do not appear on voter rolls. Those voters are allowed to cast their ballots after signing an affidavit confirming their eligibility to vote.

The campaigns of both women are fighting over the validity of approximately 114 affidavit ballots that lack information about party affiliation.

Election officials tossed out more than 80 percent of the roughly 2,800 affidavit ballots cast in the Queens Democratic primary, The New York Times reported. Only 487 votes were kept.

“We are still fighting to make sure every valid ballot is counted,” Cabán said in a statement, according to WABC. “We are confident that if that happens, we will be victorious.”Katz fired back against the allegations regarding the tossed ballots. “On the details of those that were considered invalid, you’re going to have to talk with lawyers and the Board of Elections, but only registered Democrats can vote in this election and in their district where they are registered,” she said.

New York only allows registered Democrats to vote in the party’s primaries. According to The New York Times, registered voters affiliated with the Green Party or Working Families Party are not allowed to cast ballots in a Democratic primary. Voters are also forced to submit their change in party affiliation at least six months before the election date.

Cabán’s attorney filed a lawsuit on July 2 as a precautionary measure, NY1 reported. “We do that as a prophylactic,” attorney Jerry Goldfeder said. “Just to make sure that in case there are disputes, there’s a judge ready to resolve them.”Despite the small margin of victory, Katz claimed victory. “We said from the beginning that every vote needs to be counted and that every voter needs to be heard, and now we see clearly why this must always be the case,” Katz said in a statement. “I am proud to have been chosen as the Democratic nominee for Queens District Attorney.”

Cabán’s campaign remained confident that she will ultimately be declared the winner. “Queens voters are inspired by Tiffany Cabán’s campaign and her vision for real criminal justice reform,” campaign spokeswoman Monica Klein said. “If every valid paper ballot vote is counted, we are confident we will prevail.”

The Board of Elections is expected to announce the final primary results on July 16.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.