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Queens Chronicle

What we know about DA election

First, it’ll take weeks to determine winner of Katz-Cabán showdown

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Posted: Thursday, July 11, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 2:50 pm, Thu Jul 11, 2019.

The race for the Democratic nomination for Queens district attorney has seen more twists and turns in the past two weeks than the Jackie Robinson Parkway.

Just 16 votes out of nearly 90,000 cast separate Borough President Melinda Katz from Tiffany Cabán, who trails at this point.

The arduous task of recounting all the ballots, the largest city recount in modern times, started this week.

How long before we know who won?

No one can say for sure, but the lawyer for the Board of Elections estimates about two weeks.

Some 50 staffers are working 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week to complete the task of counting by hand approximately 89,000 ballots — 85,000 cast in the voting machines on primary day, 3,500 absentee ballots and 443 affidavit votes deemed valid by the BOE.

A judge from Brooklyn, John Ingram, was transferred to Queens temporarily to decide any disputes between the two campaigns over the count.

Such transfers are unusual but not unheard of in election cases, specifically to avoid any appearance of political conflict.

Why are they recounting the vote?

When the BOE counted all the absentee ballots the day before Independence Day, Cabán's 1,090-vote lead on primary night evaporated and Katz crept ahead by a mere 20 votes (later reduced to 16 by some affidavit ballots).

Any election decided by less than half a percentage point automatically triggers a voting machine recount under state law. (The margin here, by the way, is 0.00018 percent.)

How’s it done?

On Tuesday, at the BOE’s storage facility on Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, 771 sealed voting machines used to optically scan paper ballots were opened.

The paper ballots, stored in blue boxes, were carried to any of 16 tables set up on the first floor of the facility. Two staffers stationed at each table opened them, removed the ballots and showed the empty box to two volunteers, one from each campaign, who watch the count.

It took two days this week to empty the boxes and sort the ballots by election district.

On Thursday, the actual process of recounting is set to begin.

What’s next?

When the recount is complete, the margin of victory for Katz or Cabán will be critical.

The recount will determine 400 ballots cast on primary day that were not picked up by the machines.

If a voter failed to fill in the circle next to a candidates name but instead, say, circled the name or wrote a check mark in the box, the optical scanner would not have recorded the vote.

In a court hearing this week, lawyers for both campaigns agreed they would accept any “clear indication” of voter preference on the unrecorded ballots.

If Katz is still ahead by a slim margin at the conclusion of the recount, the Cabán campaign is expected to ask Ingram to take up the question of 14 affidavit ballots thrown out by the BOE last week.

The affidavits were invalidated because voters neglected to write in Democrat in the space calling for party enrollment.

Lawyers for the two campaigns are due back in court July 24.

Is there any evidence of tampering with the results?

Supporters of Cabán, stung by her sudden reversal of fortune, have questioned the establishment Democrats’ hold on the election process.

The Queens County Democrats appoint both the leadership of the BOE and most of the judicial candidates for the county courts who would rule on any disputes.

If Cabán’s fans have leveled accusations against the regular Democrats on social media, the campaign itself has not.

“We haven’t seen any maleficence in this process,” a lawyer for the Cabán campaign, Renee Paradis, told Gothamist this week.

“We can’t control what people say on Twitter.”

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