Absentee ballots gave Queens Borough President Melinda Katz a small lead over public defender Tiffany Cabán -- reversing the outcome from election night.

The tally of absentee ballots conducted after Election Day has tentatively reversed the outcome of last month’s Democratic primary for district attorney of Queens ― a race that has generated national excitement.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, 53 ― who trailed public defender Tiffany Cabán, 31, by over 1,000 votes when regular ballots were counted on Election Day ― now holds a 20-vote lead over Cabán. The New York City Board of Elections will now conduct a full recount, which it has a policy of initiating when the victory margin is under 0.5 percentage points.

The new margin dismayed supporters of Cabán and increases the likelihood that the election will end in acrimony.

In addition to counting absentee ballots in the days since the June 25 election, the Board of Elections examined over 2,800 affidavit ballots ― provisional forms completed by voters not on the registration rolls when they show up at the polls. The board invalidated over 2,000 of those ballots over the course of that process.

Cabán and her supporters say many of those affidavit ballots were improperly disqualified. The Cabán campaign’s attorney, Jerry Goldfeder, plans to challenge the disqualification of all but a few hundred of the invalidated affidavit ballots.

“We are still fighting to make sure every valid ballot is counted,” Cabán said Thursday in a statement. “We are confident that if that happens, we will be victorious.”

Nearly two weeks after the New York City election, the results of the primary for Queens County district attorney between Tiffany Cabán, right, and Melinda Katz remain too close to call.
Nearly two weeks after the New York City election, the results of the primary for Queens County district attorney between Tiffany Cabán, right, and Melinda Katz remain too close to call.

Cabán, a queer Latina public defender backed by New York City’s progressive activist community, shocked the political world with her strong performance in a field of six candidates.

Katz promised more incremental reforms, and she was backed by the Queens machine ― as the assemblage of politicians, operatives and business interests that call the shots in the 2.3 million-person borough is known.

Cabán declared victory on the night of Election Day, but Katz refused to concede the race, prompting a borough-wide canvass of absentee ballots and affidavit ballots.

Now their roles have reversed, with Katz declaring victory and Cabán insisting that all votes be accounted for.

Cabán’s supporters have raised questions about the independence of Board of Elections officials overseeing the race. Progressive activists plan to rally outside the Board of Elections office in Forest Hills, Queens, on Friday. They are demanding that the board count every valid affidavit ballot, and that there be an independent investigation of the Board of Elections and the Queens Democratic County Committee, which nominates people to the Board of Elections.

The mysterious and powerful Queens Democratic County Committee, which has more than 1,000 members, was the target of scrutiny in 2018 when The New York Times revealed that many of the nominees for the panel had been tapped by the Queens County Democratic Party to serve without their consent or knowledge. Meanwhile, the party barred independent Democratic activists from serving through use of obscure technicalities.

The influence of the Queens machine, embodied by the county party and subsidiary arms like the county committee, is part of what spurred Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset win over then-Rep. Joseph Crowley in a June 2018 primary. Crowley was chair of the Queens County Democratic Party at the time.

Cabán’s uphill race against Katz turned into a kind of sequel to the Ocasio-Cortez race as Queens machine stalwarts sought to defend their remaining political power. Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Cabán, while Crowley endorsed Katz and contributed major cash to her campaign.

Crowley’s long tenure atop the Queens machine may still play a role in the Queens district attorney race’s outcome. He appointed José Miguel Araujo to the Board of Elections in 2008, on which Araujo still serves. Since his appointment, Araujo profited handsomely from patronage work as an appointed guardian in Queens Surrogate’s Court where the estates of individuals with no clear heirs are resolved. The court is a notorious hive for corruption where well-connected attorneys and party officials collect millions of dollars in fees ― often from families of modest means struggling with the sudden death of a loved one.

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