Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz (right) and public defender Tiffany Cabán are in a tight race for district attorney.

By Christine ChungTHE CITY

This story was originally published on July 8, 2019 by THE CITY.

With the recount process set to begin Tuesday in the tense Tiffany Cabán/Melinda Katz Democratic primary battle for Queens district attorney, both campaigns are tallying more than just votes.

Insurgent candidate Cabán, with about $35,000 left to spend, is invoking the electoral stalemate in fundraising pitches. Recent emails ask supporters for contributions to ensure a fair recount against a “party machine that has ruled local politics and suppressed democracy for decades.”

Meanwhile, Queens Democratic Party stalwart and Borough President Katz has about $332,000 on hand. But that’s offset by nearly $360,000 in outstanding bills, the bulk of which she owes to consulting firm Red Horse Strategies, records show.

Katz attorneys Michael Reich and Frank Bolz are volunteering their services, said Matthew Rey, a campaign spokesperson. He added that the campaign is now “just starting to raise money” for the recount and general election.

Prominent election attorney Jerry Goldfeder and Renée Paradis, Bernie Sanders’ former voter protection director, are on Cabán’s payroll.

Katz, who initially appeared to have lost the crowded June 25 primary race to Cabán by 1,199 votes, pulled ahead by a mere 16 last week after a count of paper ballots.

The thin margin triggered a full recount of some 91,000 votes, which is expected to take at least a week — and every day will cost the campaigns. Both candidates have already spent upwards of $450,000 each in the past month, campaign disclosure forms filed last week show.

A Major Undertaking

Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer and a former chair of the New York City Bar election law committee, noted there are “almost never recounts this big.”

“Recounts are usually in a single district,” Steiner said. “Usually, they’re in the smaller races. By sheer scale of larger races, usually the gaps between voters exceed the half of one percent in a recount.”

Just before the recount begins, attorneys for Cabán and Katz are scheduled to appear in state Supreme Court. Judge Jeremy Weinstein is expected to rule on whether 114 affidavit ballots with missing information should be validated and counted.

Despite recent accusations by the Katz campaign that Cabán’s team was cherry-picking affidavits favorable to her and effectively suppressing votes, both sides agree that every valid ballot should be counted.

“More than 100 affidavit ballots from registered and eligible Democrats were wrongly invalidated by the [city Board of Elections] — and we will be in court Tuesday morning to make sure these voters are not disenfranchised,” said Monica Klein, a Cabán spokesperson.

Rey said that the Katz campaign was “glad to see that [the Cabán campaign] changed their position that all 114 should be considered together.”

“We will let the court determine whether these 114 should be valid or if none of them will be valid,” he added.

Disputed Ballots Loom

Katz’s slim lead emerged after last week’s hand count of about 4,000 valid paper ballots — 3,552 absentees and 487 affidavits — and then the restoration of six affidavits previously rejected by the Board of Elections.

A Katz campaign staffer said that after accounting for 59 ballots with write-in candidates, some 358 votes cast on June 25 didn’t make it to the machines because of marking errors or an improper number of candidates selected. More than half are from election districts where Katz prevailed, the staffer said.

The recount process is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the BOE’s Queens voting machine facility in Middle Village. Board of Elections staffers will start by sorting the 91,000 ballots by election district and assembly district, said Valerie Vasquez, a BOE spokesperson.

Both campaigns said the Board of Elections set an optimistic July 16 deadline to certify results from June primary day races. Vasquez said that this deadline applies to all primaries — except the Queens DA contest.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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