As Board of Elections officials began organizing ballots and setting up tables at a facility in Middle Village, prominent election lawyers working for Melinda Katz and Tiffany Cabán appeared in Queens Supreme Court Tuesday to discuss the logistics of an unprecedented manual recount — and eventual election certification — in the primary for Queens district attorney.
Katz leads Cabán by 16 votes after an initial machine count of ballots and a manual tally of absentee and affidavit ballots deemed valid by the BOE, ahead of a recount of roughly 91,000 ballots cast in the June 25 primary.
“I don’t think we ever had [a recount], so this is the first one and unfortunately it’s the whole county,” said Katz’s campaign lawyer Frank Bolz, a longtime leader of the Queens County Democratic Party. “The Board has a big job ahead of them. And both the Cabán team and the Katz team have a big job ahead of them.”
The countywide recount will take at least 10 days to complete, said BOE General Counsel Steve Richman. He told Justice John Ingram that BOE officials are willing to work six days a week, including 8 hours on Saturdays,
Despite accusations of election fraud by some observers and rancor between the Katz and Cabán campaigns, Ingram noted that the two election lawyers, Bolz for Katz and Jerry Goldfeder for Cabán, were on the same page when it comes to the goal of the recount.
“Truly both sides agree, every vote should be counted,” Ingram told the attorneys.
“It’s good to work with experienced election lawyers because you know the law,” he added.
But Ingram postponed a major point of contention: a hearing about the status of a number of affidavit ballots on which registered Democrats failed to indicate their party enrollment. Voters complete affidavit ballots, which get sealed inside an identification form, when their names do not appear on the voter rolls at their polling site.
By letter of state law, the ballots missing party enrollment were deemed invalid by the BOE, but Goldfeder and other election experts say Ingram should validate the ballots because they were completed by registered Democrats permitted to vote in the primary.
“Minor technicalities should not disenfranchise voters,” Goldfeder said outside court.
“We’re going to count every ballot,” he added.
Bolz said at least one of those affidavits was completed by registered Republican. The two sides will reconvene for a status conference to discuss the recount on July 17 and for another hearing about the affidavits on July 24.
Neither campaign nor the BOE would share information about the breakdown of affidavit ballots by Assembly District, information that could suggest the ballot outcome based on the candidate’s performance in that district.
The Katz campaign has criticized Cabán’s team for contacting voters who completed affidavit ballots to find out who they voted for.
Bolz, a leader in the Queens County Democratic Party, said the Katz campaign has contacted “zero” affidavit voters.
“I just think it’s wrong,” he said.
Goldfeder countered that “it’s routine for campaigns to reach out to voters.”
The recount will almost certainly add to the overall vote total, as officials identify ballots where the voter’s intention was clear, but they did not completely fill in the bubble next to their chosen candidate. It’s unclear which candidate will benefit more from the additional votes.
BOE officials will spend the next two days organizing ballots by assembly and election district, and setting up a number of tables before the vote count actually begins, Richman said.
He supplied some specific details about the recount procedure, including that six of the 16 pixels in the bubble next to a candidate’s name must be marked — either by an X or check — to count. Voters may also circle their chosen candidate’s name.
Attorney Migdalia Pares, a campaign lawyer for former DA candidate Betty Lugo, also attended the hearing. Lugo finished seventh in the primary contest.
“There are votes for other candidates and that’s going to affect the final vote,” Pares said.