Queens DA primary recount probably won't start until Monday, BOE says

Two BOE officials consider a table full of ballots Thursday morning.

Two BOE officials consider a table full of ballots Thursday morning.

By David Brand

The full manual recount in the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney is unlikely to begin until next week, with Board of Elections officials only halfway done marking and organizing the roughly 91,000 ballots cast, BOE staff said Thursday.

BOE general counsel Steve Richman told a state Supreme Court judge Tuesday that the recount preparations would take about two days to complete. On Thursday, BOE staff said that Richman underestimated the logistics — even with dozens of officials working 10-hour days inside a Middle Village facility.

“We’re halfway there but we still have a long way to go,” said BOE Chief Clerk Amanda Berinato. “We’re just going to focus on sorting and once the sorting is done, we’re going to start the recount on a fresh, new day.”

BOE staff prepare bins full of ballots for sorting ahead of a recount in the Democratic primary for Queens DA.  Eagle  photo by David Brand

BOE staff prepare bins full of ballots for sorting ahead of a recount in the Democratic primary for Queens DA. Eagle photo by David Brand

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz leads public defender Tiffany Cabán by 16 votes after a machine count of roughly 89,000 ballots and a hand tally of a few thousand absentee and affidavit ballots that were deemed valid by the BOE.

The BOE officials must retrieve each of those individual ballots from the sealed bins; write the ballot bin-liner serial number, electoral district (ED) and assembly district (AD) on each one; and separate them into envelopes designated by ED.

The large, school-cafeteria-style room at the Rentar Plaza shopping mall features 15 folding tables designated by geographic zone. Each zone accounts for 15-20 poll sites, Berinato said.

Two BOE officials — one Democrat and one Republican — sit at each table for about ten hours a day (10 a.m. to 7 p.m. minus lunch), marking ballots with a red pen. They are not allowed to listen to music, BOE staff said.

The roughly 91,000-vote total means each of the 30 officials will handle an average of more than 3,000 paper ballots in the unprecedented countywide recount. 

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Voters from various electoral districts vote at the same polling site and use the same scanners, mingling the ballots. After officials file all ballots from one electoral district into the appropriate envelope, they place the completed envelope into a gray bin marked with the corresponding Assembly District (there are 18 ADs in Queens).

When all the ballots are organized into the appropriate ED envelope and AD bin, the recount will begin.

Richman, the BOE attorney, said at court that the recount would take at least ten days after the ballots are organized.

Volunteer monitors from the Katz and Cabán campaigns sat at the end of each table — though there was not much to monitor before the recount begins. One woman completed a crossword puzzle. A few other  people looked at their phones or wrote notes on legal pads.

Ballots on ballots. Photo by David Brand

Ballots on ballots. Photo by David Brand

Monitors for both candidates said they were instructed not to speak to the press, but some did anyway. A Cabán volunteer said she was working the morning shift, another working for Katz acknowledged that it would be a “long day,” but said they were unsure whether they would stay to watch the ballot organizing process. 

A representative from Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ office also sat along the perimeter of the room watching proceedings. The representative said he had expected the recount to begin today and was present to provide “independent oversight.” Williams did not endorse in the Queens DA primary.

The last countywide recount occurred in 1955 — also in the Democratic primary for Queens DA.