Photo: Cabán for Queens District Attorney/Katz for Queens District Attorney
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz (right) and public defender Tiffany Cabán are preparing for a recount.

By Christine ChungTHE CITY

This story was originally published on July 11, 2019 by THE CITY.

Tiffany Cabán has marshalled a volunteer army of attorneys to fight for votes in the Queens district attorney Democratic primary recount.

The insurgent candidate has actively recruited helpers to monitor the tallying of some 91,000 votes. The process officially began earlier this week at a Board of Elections voting machine facility in Middle Village after a paper ballot count left Borough President Melinda Katz holding a razor-thin lead of 16 — triggering a full recount.

The Cabán campaign on Thursday said about 165 lawyers have enrolled pro bono to aid the ballot review. That’s on top of more than 200 volunteers charged with providing administrative support.

Meanwhile, Katz bolstered her legal team by hiring top election lawyer Martin Connor, a former Brooklyn state senator.

“I’m joining their legal team, but 99 other people aren’t,” Connor said, taking a shot at Cabán’s swelling volunteer ranks.

Power in Numbers?

Experts noted the size of Cabán’s volunteer legal squad is unusual.

“I can see having shifts of watchers,” said Sarah Steiner, a former chair of the Election Law Committee for the New York City Bar Association. “But it’s the having that many that is impressive. I’ve never heard of that many volunteer lawyers for a recount… You’d normally be lucky to get a single volunteer lawyer.”

Steiner said the volunteers could come in handy with counting sessions as long as 12 hours a day, giving the lead campaign lawyers a chance to take breaks and rest their eyes.

Board of Elections workers in Middle Village prepare to count more than 90,000 ballots, on July 9, 2019.
Board of Elections workers in Middle Village prepare to count more than 90,000 ballots, on July 9, 2019. Photo: Christine Chung/THE CITY

“In that position, they can be very helpful,” she said of the volunteers. “They are getting a crash course on the short list of legal objections and how to spot them. They don’t need to know any other election law.”

Cabán is officially represented by longtime election attorney Jerry Goldfeder and Renée Paradis, a former voter protection director for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

A ‘Diverse Grassroots Movement’

Paradis and another team member are overseeing mandatory training sessions for the volunteers, covering how to observe the recount and lodge objections when a ballot may be improperly invalidated.

The Cabán campaign said the sign-ups have been rolling in, chalking up the numbers to the “diverse grassroots movement” supporting her district attorney run.

“With many votes left to count, that same energy continues to drive our volunteer efforts,” said Daniel Lumer, a Cabán spokesperson. “Our campaign’s success has been built on the dedication of our volunteers and supporters.”

Former state senator Martin Connor is helping Melinda Katz.
Former state senator Martin Connor is helping Melinda Katz. Photo: New York State Senate

For the past two days, the recount process has been quietly churning along in the underbelly of the Metro Mall in Middle Village.

Dozens of Board of Elections staffers have been sorting through the tens of thousands of ballots, one by one, and piling them into two categories: election and assembly districts. The actual counting of ballots — and the opportunities for potential objections — will likely begin on Monday, sources close to the process said.

Cabán, until recently an unknown public defender, upended local politics by ending the June 25 primary nearly 1,200 votes ahead of Katz, who is backed by the Queens Democratic machine. Both are vying to fill the slot of the late, longtime Queens DA Richard Brown.

A Different Approach

Katz’s team said they aren’t pulling out any extra stops to seek out volunteers.

“We know who they are, we just went through Get Out The Vote,” said Katz spokesperson Matthew Rey. “We don’t need mass emails or [social media].”

Rey added that throughout the campaign, Katz has attracted “significant supporters and volunteers” who can help monitor the recount.

Katz election attorneys Michael Reich and Frank Bolz told THE CITY they’re working for free. They are newly joined by Connor, who is now on the payroll, the campaign confirmed.

“I don’t know where they are going to fit,” he said of Cabán’s legal contingent. “Only one person can sit at the table.”

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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