State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who finished second to 21-term Congressman Charles Rangel in New York’s 15th district primary, has filed a petition that could force a re-vote of the election. While not likely, Espaillat is keeping his options open as the strange and confusing counting of votes from the primary continues.
On primary night, Rangel held what looked to be a safe lead and claimed victory. Espaillat agreed and gave a concession speech.
But as the last tallies were being counted, Rangels safe lead evaporated to where the difference between the two candidates now stands at a little more than 800 votes.
The board is conducting the slow and tedious process of counting about 2,000 absentee and affidavit ballots as Rangel is trying to hold on to his chance for a 22nd term.
The 13th Congressional District race appeared decided last week on election night, with Rangel seemingly holding a sizable lead. But the vote margin shrank, leading some to wonder if state Sen. Adriano Espaillat conceded too soon.
Redistricting transformed the district into a majority-Hispanic one.
A tally released by the Board of Elections last weekend showed Rangel led by 802 votes. There could be a full manual recount if the final difference is less than one-half of 1 percent of all votes cast.
More than a dozen members of each candidate’s camp monitored the counting as it began at a Lower Manhattan office.
In the crowded room, there were two tables for counting — one each for 68th and 69th Assembly Districts, which are in the 13th Congressional District.
The vote also included GOP ballots from the U.S. Senate primary, a far smaller number because the district is heavily Democratic.
At each table there was a team of four elections board employees, two Democrats and two Republicans. They were counting the ballots which have already had been validated by the elections board.
Also at each table was one observer for the Espaillat campaign, one watcher for Rangel, and one lawyer for Rangel. Both campaigns were allowed lawyers and observers, but Espaillat only sent observers.
The ballots were being counted until 6 p.m. Thursday.
With only 40,000 votes cast and with only 2,000 remaining to be counted, Rangel’s 800 vote lead would seem to be secure. And the 2% lead by Rangel doesn’t meet the threshold for an automatic recount, which is one half of one percent of the total vote. But the Espaillat campaign is putting pressure on the elections board and throwing out charges of irregularities at Rangel.
“You can’t just call people crooks and say that they’re committing illegal acts,” Rangel said, according to the New York Daily News. Rangel added: “Don’t knock the system; it’s all we have.”
Chris Cillizza explains the strange vote tallying process:
Espaillat’s campaign, for now, is exercising all its options, as any good campaign would do. It had to file for the re-vote within 10 days of the primary, so the move this week seems precautionary rather than a silver-bullet strategy.
But he’s got some backup when it comes to questioning the vote-counting process. New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio (a likely 2013 mayoral hopeful who was notably endorsed by Rangel in his last campaign) has written a letter expressing concerns about the vote-counting process in the Rangel primary.
“I am disturbed by reports that may point to a larger set of election administration issues in our city,” de Blasio wrote. “In particular, I am concerned by the election night vote tallying process in which only hand-written canvas sheets, prepared by poll workers and then reported to the New York City Police Department, are used for totaling election night vote returns, instead of using vote count print-outs directly from precinct voting machines.”
De Blasio then asks a series of questions about the city’s vote-tallying process.
The high-profile questioning of the city’s elections board’s processes will certainly help Espaillat, but a tough court battle remains.
Given the paucity of evidence — so far — of major cheating, Espaillat better hope that he gains about 600 votes when the remaining ballots are counted. That would trigger a full recount at which point anything could happen.