The two women battling to become the Democratic candidate for Queens District Attorney are bracing for what is likely to be several more weeks of suspense as election officials prepare to begin a manual recount process on Tuesday to decide a whiplash-inducing race whose outcome may be further challenged in court.
The manual recount process, which is expected to involve observers representing the interests of both Melinda Katz and Tiffany Cabán, is shaping up to become a smaller-scale version of the infamous 2000 Bush V. Gore presidential recount in Florida, according to political experts.
As of Friday, Katz, the Queensborough president and establishment candidate who was heavily favored in the race, leads challenger Cabán, a former public defender, by 16 votes — a margin that shrank by four votes after election officials counted six ballots that they had previously invalidated.
The manual recount process is expected to open up further scrutiny over uncounted ballots, by bringing in ones that were improperly filled out and not counted by a machine. Under that process, check marks and circles can be counted..
“People can have arguments over how circles were darkened,” said David Birdsell, dean of the Baruch College Marxe School of Public and International Affairs. "Contested marks end up in court."
Birdsell said that, although the length of the actual recount is expected to take between one to three weeks, he expected there to be ongoing legal challenges over the ballots that could draw out the drama until the end of the summer.
On election night, Cabán was leading by 1,100 votes, but a tally of over 6,000 paper ballots last Thursday then gave Katz a slim lead of 20 votes. Katz immediately issued a statement on Twitter declaring victory.
Cabán’s camp, meanwhile, sought to challenge Board of Election officials for refusing to count more than 2,000 affidavit ballots before counting paper ballots. (Affidavit ballots are filled out at poll sites by voters who cannot be found on the voter rolls, to be counted at a later date.) On Tuesday, prior to the recount, a Queens Supreme Court judge will decide whether election officials should count over 114 disqualified affidavit ballots.
“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,” said Monica Klein, a spokesperson for Cabán on Monday morning. “We will also be closely monitoring the hand recount, which could yield hundreds of new votes improperly read by machine scanners.”
here is the updated link to sign up to observe the recount on behalf of the Cabán campaign! Please circulate widely to your lawyer friends/legal networks!!!
— Renée Paradis (@ReneeParadis) July 7, 2019
She added: “When every valid vote is counted, we are confident that we will win.”
Amid the upheaval, the race has taken a nastier turn, with prominent Cabán supporters suggesting the election process is controlled by the so-called "Queens machine."
CORRECTION: after NOT counting all affidavit ballots (which skew in favor of @CabanForQueens ).
In fact they’ve thrown over 2,000 of those votes out!
Gotta keep the #QueensMachine in check - ALL votes must be counted, not just the votes the Queens Machine likes! https://t.co/9rZEGWSOy1
— Cynthia Nixon (@CynthiaNixon) July 4, 2019
Katz's campaign, in turn, accused Cabán of "cherry picking" which affidavit ballots to examine, saying that none of the ones in the initial request included affidavit ballots from southeastern Queens, heavily African American districts which tended to vote for Katz.
Matthew Rey, a partner at Red Horse Strategies, a consulting firm for Katz, said the campaign's position has always remained the same.
"Every valid vote should be counted," he said, adding, "Throughout the entire process, which has been run by the board, there has been representatives by both campaigns with abilities of all camps to raise objections and relative points."
The first day of the manual recount is expected to be dedicated to unpacking and marking ballots by election district, leaving the actual counting of votes to begin on Wednesday.
Although the BOE is not expected to give public updates, both sides will likely release unofficial tallies, which could provide both candidates with a rallying cry to fund-raise for legal assistance.
Chris Coffey, a Democratic political strategist at Tusk Strategies, said recount efforts typically cost a tremendous amount of money. Although Katz has a significantly larger war chest, he said Cabán was still well-positioned to reach out to small progressive donors.
"The Cabán folks are a cause in the way the Katz folks are not," he said.
Coffey said he expected the upcoming manual counts to see-saw from day to day.
"My guess is that there will be good days and bad days for either side," he said.