Court battle and full manual recount for incredibly tight Queens DA race set for Tuesday

Tiffany Cabán (left) and Melinda Katz
Photos: Mark Hallum/QNS

Tuesday, July 9, will be a pivotal day for the outcome of the still undecided and incredibly tight Democratic primary for Queens district attorney.

Camps for Tiffany Cabán and Borough President Melinda Katz will go to court on Tuesday morning as the battle to redeem 114 affidavit ballots that the Board of Elections (BOE) dismissed last week will go before a judge in downtown Jamaica. Meanwhile, a full manual recount of over 93,000 ballots will begin at a BOE facility in Middle Village’s Rentar Plaza.

What has evolved into a seemingly endless struggle between mainstream Democrats and progressive reformers has manifested itself in a race that places the two top vote-getters only 16 votes apart, which triggered an automatic recount that will take into account all ballots, potentially including those that were not properly filled out.

According to the BOE, some registered voters may have checked or X-ed the box beside the name of who they were voting for instead blacking out the bubble, meaning the scanning machines did not count their vote.

Cabán is getting support from the Working Families Party, which has thrown their full support behind the public defender who has received nationwide attention for high-ranking endorsements and a platform with reform ideas viewed as bold by supporters, but too extreme by detractors.

“This week, the Cabán campaign will be in court and at the Board of Elections to make sure that every valid vote is counted,” said Monica Klein, a spokeswoman for Cabán. “More than 100 affidavit ballots from registered and eligible Democrats were wrongly invalidated by the BOE – and we will be in Court Tuesday morning to make sure these voters are not disenfranchised. We will also be closely monitoring the hand recount, which could yield hundreds of new votes improperly read by machine scanners.”

The Cabán campaign believes it will gain between 300 to 400 additional votes from the recount. Last week, it filed the lawsuit as a preemptive move to have many of the affidavit ballots deemed invalid by the BOE counted in the race to succeed the late DA Richard Brown.

The BOE tossed aside over 2,000 affidavits claiming they were improperly filled out, but the Cabán campaign was able to verify six of them on Friday. This reduced the lead gained by Katz over Cabán – who ended primary night with an 1,100 vote lead – from 20 to to 16.

Cabán’s campaign charged that the Queens County Democratic Party, which it referred to as “the machine,” has been pulling strings to suppress the vote for Cabán, who had strikingly deep support in northwest and southwestern Queens.

“Our campaign, and all of Queens, is up against a party machine that has ruled local politics and suppressed democracy for decades,” Cabán said. “Our communities are calling for a criminal justice system that ends mass incarceration, uplifts our black and brown communities, and decriminalizes poverty — rather than protecting the powerful. I am humbled every day by the volunteer effort we have built in this campaign. We are still fighting to make sure every valid ballot is counted. We are confident that if that happens, we will be victorious.”

The Katz campaign has fired back at these allegations as irresponsible and baseless.

“It is the height of irresponsibility for a candidate for district attorney to make outrageous, wrongheaded claims out of thin air. Our goal at the beginning of this week was to count every valid vote, and our goal remains to count every valid vote. Our values were consistent when we were behind, and now that we have the lead, remain the same. We don’t cherry pick voters, and we certainly don’t exclude voters from communities of color, as others have tried to do,” said Matthew Rey, a spokesman for the Katz campaign. “Queens deserves better, and we expect to maintain our lead throughout the coming weeks as all valid votes are recounted.”

The primary vote for Queens DA was split between seven different candidates, which was expected to be representative in July 3 count of 3,552 absentee ballots. Katz, however gained enough ground that many have remained skeptical of the new 20-vote lead for the long-established borough president.

While the court appearance is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at 88-11 Sutphin Blvd., the recount will begin 10 a.m., with BOE staff sorting the ballots by election districts and assembly districts.

The recount could take up to two to three weeks to complete.

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