Katz Takes Narrow Lead in Queens DA Election, Race Heads To Recount

Local News

  • After the counting of paper ballots in the Queens DA race, Melinda Katz took a 20-vote lead (later reduced to 16) over Tiffany Cabán. The slim margin triggers an automatic manual recount, to start this week. Such a closely watched race is shedding light on New York’s unusually restrictive voting laws and the difficulties that voters in the state face. (More details below.)
  • Three city cyclists were killed were killed in less than a week, bringing the annual total to 15 and prompting Mayor De Blasio to renew his commitment to the “action plan” announced by the Department of Transit in 2017.
  • More than 200,000 low-level marijuana convictions were thrown out thanks to a law passed in Albany last month, but the New York Drug Policy Alliance suggested that the number should be closer to 900,000.
  • Climate activists are divided over the “compromise bill” that Gov. Cuomo signed last month.
  • Dr. Lisa Mars, the principal at the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, stepped down last week. Although she cited “personal reasons,” Mars appears to have been a target of complaints over the declining diversity at the school.
  • The women’s solitary confinement unit at Rikers Island is open again after being closed during the probe into Layleen Polanco’s death last month.

Elections

  • A bill passed by the State legislature this session, but not yet signed by Gov. Cuomo, could play a pivotal role in the outcome of the Queens DA race.

Cabán Recount Update

What Happened?

On Election Night, Tiffany Cabán, the public defender and progressive candidate for Queens District Attorney, held a 1,090-vote lead over her closest opponent, establishment candidate and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. (This lead subsequently grew to 1,199 after a machine recount.) Although Cabán claimed victory in her election night speech, Katz refused to concede, citing the paper ballots that had not yet been counted. These ballots consisted of two categories: 1) absentee ballots, and 2) affidavit ballots.

The absentee ballots broke decisively for Katz. Due to New York’s strict rules about qualifying for an absentee ballot, those voters tend to skew older than the rest of the electorate. The Katz campaign also claims to have run a robust Get Out the Vote effort among those voters, accounting for the big margin. Whatever the cause, the absentee ballots gave Katz a lead of 20 votes.

There were also over 2,000 affidavit, or provisional, ballots, that were filled out by voters whose names were not on the voter list at the polling place where they cast their ballot. These ballots fall into three categories: a) legitimately invalid ones (person is Republican or independent, person voted at the wrong polling place, person isn’t registered to vote, etc.) (b) Ballots that are straightforwardly valid, but were mistakenly invalidated by the Board of Elections. (c) Ballots that are valid (person is a registered Democrat at the right polling place, etc.) EXCEPT that the voter didn’t correctly write that they were a Democrat on the confusing affidavit form.

Category (a) gets tossed, as there is no legal way to count them.

Of Category (b), six previously invalidated votes were validated by the BOE on Friday, thanks largely to the work of Cabán’s volunteers and legal team, led by Renée Paradis. Those six votes broke 5-1 Cabán, leaving the margin at 16 votes.

What Next?

There are two unresolved issues going forward. First is category (c) of the affidavit ballots. These are, again, votes from registered Democrats who voted at the right polling location, but who filled out the affidavit incorrectly. The BOE is refusing to count these votes, but the case will go to court. Currently, the case is scheduled for tomorrow, but it will likely be delayed because of the second unresolved issue: the manual recount.

Due to the narrow margin, the election faces an automatic manual recount. This involves literally opening up the scanner machines and looking at the paper ballots, and is anticipated to take at least a week to complete. It will likely alter the results, but it is not clear by how much or in which direction.

The campaign is currently looking for volunteers to help observe the recount. Lawyers interested in legal observation can sing up here. Other volunteers can sign up here.

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