By David Brand
Prominent election attorneys paced the 11th floor office of the Board of Elections’ Forest Hills outpost as teams of officials and campaign monitors hand-counted a few thousand absentee and affidavit ballots — the final votes in the tight race for the Democratic nomination for Queens district attorney.
Those remaining votes will determine the official winner of the June 25 election. Public defender Tiffany Cabán led Borough President Melinda Katz by 1,199 votes before the final count began shortly after 10 a.m on Wednesday. Cabán received a total of 34,104 votes and Katz earned 32,905 votes from registered voters at Queens polling places on Election Day.
There were another 3,552 absentee ballots left to tally, a spokesperson from the Board of Elections told the Eagle. Voters also cast 2,781 affidavit ballots because their names did not appear on the voter rolls for a variety of reasons, often because they were not registered as Democrats in Queens.
The Board of Elections deemed nearly 2,300 of those affidavits invalid, however, leaving 487 preliminarily valid affidavit ballots. The campaigns can still challenge and review the validity of the affidavits and election experts said that the ratio of valid affidavits was common.
Attorney Frank Bolz, a powerful leader of the Queens County Democratic Party, managed the count for Katz, overseeing a team of monitors who were seated at each of the eight tables.
The count began with Assembly Districts 23 through 29, and the early returns favored Katz. Those districts encompass most of north and northeastern Queens, neighborhoods that Katz won and where Cabán performed poorly compared to Western Queens and neighborhoods like Jackson Heights and Corona.
Bolz provided perfunctory commentary as he walked back and forth, coaching the monitors. He said he believed Katz had a chance to overcome the deficit.
“We have a lot of paper to be counted,” he said. “I’m making sure that all the poll watchers for Katz are doing their job well.”
And they were, he added, before declining to answer additional questions.
Attorney Jerry Goldfeder, who handled the count for Cabán, passed Bolz as the pair walked from table to table. At one point, the two lawyers collided, before continuing in opposite directions.
“It’s going smoothly, everyone is working collegially and we’ll get the totals of how the people voted,” Goldfeder said.
Though he told the Eagle Monday that he was confident Cabán would hold on to her lead, he declined to make as bold a prediction Wednesday.
“If I had a crystal ball, I would have bought Apple stock,” he said. “The voters voted and we’re just ascertaining who they supported.”
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, an early Cabán supporter, looked on as BOE officials held up each ballot for the monitors to observe. The monitors kept tally on note pads, marking one of two columns as Katz and Cabán picked up new votes.
“I just want to be here to make sure we get a fair vote,” Van Bramer said. “The more eyes and ears we have in the room, the more we guarantee this is done fairly.”
The Queens County Democratic Party appointed the Queens’ Democratic Board of Elections commissioner — one of the city’s ten BOE commissioners, one Democrat and one Republicans from each of the five counties — prompting some Cabán supporters to question the impartiality of the individuals who determined the validity of ballots.
The Cabán campaign filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in Queens Supreme Court Tuesday in case of irregularities. The move is standard practice in tight elections.
"We fully expect that once every valid vote is counted, Tiffany Caban's insurgent campaign will remain victorious,” said Cabán’s spokesperson Monica Klein. “But in case there are any irregularities at the Party-controlled Board, we are ready to take this to the courts to ensure there are no issues."