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Rangel Fights for His Seat



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“I’m completely baffled by the situation and the way my opponent has been reacting. . . . I don’t know what will transpire in the coming days, but one thing is clear: I need your help to prepare myself for another battle.” So wrote Representative Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) to supporters in a campaign e-mail yesterday.

After a bungled election night a week ago, there is still no official winner in the Democratic primary for New York’s 13th congressional district. Rangel, a 21-term congressman, has seen his lead over his main challenger, state senator Adriano Espaillat, dwindle to just 802 votes with a significant number of outstanding ballots, and a re-vote could be on the horizon.

Initially, the New York City Board of Elections announced that Rangel had won by 2,331 votes with all precincts having reported. Rangel declared victory and Espaillat conceded.

After choosing to declare Rangel victorious, though, the board realized that it had accidentally recorded no votes at all in 79 of the district’s 506 precincts. To complicate matters further, those districts encompassed many Dominican neighborhoods, where Espaillat, a Dominican-American, enjoys broad support.

Between Espaillat’s concession and the next morning, Rangel’s lead has collapsed from 20 points to two, with 2,110 votes still outstanding.

Stories of irregularities and questionable practices have begun to pop up alongside the calculation problems. Around 1,200 voters, mostly Hispanic, were asked to submit affidavit ballots — paper ballots physically submitted when one’s voter eligibility is uncertain — on election night.

Some of these voters might have been improperly selected for additional security measures. Espaillat announced that even members of his own family could not find their names in election books. Moreover, there are claims that some bilingual polling workers were shifted out of their usual districts.

Now, there is much confusion regarding which (and how many) of these affidavit ballots will be validated.

Prompted by these concerns and the lack of transparency in the recount process, Espaillat has moved his challenge to the New York State Supreme Court: “We cannot have a Florida-type situation in New York State. . . . Certainly the Board of Elections has not conclusively given us a result for this election. In fact, they have engaged in a murky process with a lack of transparency.” (In New York, the “Supreme Court” functions primarily as a trial court, much like “district” or “circuit” courts in other states).

Today, the Espaillat campaign filed a new complaint with the court. The complaint is a revised petition, where Espaillat and his attorneys have broadened their arguments to include a two-pronged legal strategy. First, the campaign has asked the court to order a re-canvassing of already cast ballots. Second, should the results remain unclear, the campaign now reserves the option, pursuant with state law, to ask the judge to order a revote for the entire primary.

As the campaigns await the court ruling, the Board of Elections continues to process the results. 



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