A Bronx judge Thursday ordered New York City election officials to hold off certifying any winner to the state in the Democratic primary battle for Harlem Rep. Charlie Rangel's seat in Congress as a painstaking hand count of more than 2,000 paper ballots began.
Rangel, clinging to an 802-vote lead when the day began, added slightly to his lead over chief rival state Sen. Adriano Espaillat as the first several hundred paper ballots were tallied. But Espaillat campaign officials said they expect to make gains when ballots from their Hispanic strongholds in upper Manhattan are counted.
In the Bronx, Supreme Court Judge John Carter set a hearing date of July 11 on a lawsuit brought by Espaillat, a Dominican-American candidate who has alleged that the Latino vote was suppressed through misconduct by poll workers in Hispanic precincts, and that the Board of Elections has mishandled the tally of results.
Carter made no finding on those allegations, but ordered election officials to maintain records that will allow a court-supervised recount if he determines it's necessary, and delay any certification to the state until he gives the go-ahead.
Espaillat wants the judge to consider a rerun of the Democratic primary, but lawyers for Rangel and the city Thursday complained that he hasn't provided specifics on claims that bilingual poll workers were not assigned to Hispanic precincts and disproportionate numbers of Latino voters were turned away.
"We need something to investigate," said city attorney Stephen Kitzinger. "They've been saying this for a week now, but they haven't yet produced anything specific in a report to the DA, to the Board of Elections, to anyone."
Rangel, 82, is facing the stiffest challenge in his 40-plus years in Congress in a reshaped district that is now majority Latino. He appeared to have won on election night, but the race has tightened since the Board of Elections added in 79 precincts that were not counted in the preliminary results.
The 2000-plus ballots election workers began counting Thursday include absentee ballots, and ballots from voters whose eligibility could not be validated by poll workers on election night.
Each ballot is opened and scrutinized by two inspectors -- one Democrat, one Republican -- and shown to observers from both campaigns. They have the right to protest eligibility of each voter and validation of each ballot, based on disputes about residency, party registration, or ambiguities on the ballot itself.