Winners were declared Tuesday in two New York City Democratic congressional primaries that for six weeks were mired in controversy over an influx of mail-in votes that overwhelmed the Postal Service and foreshadowed the hurdles states may face counting ballots in November.
In the city’s 12th congressional district anchored by the Upper East Side, Rep. Carolyn Maloney beat two-time challenger Suraj Patel on her way to securing her 15th term in Congress, where she is the newly elected chair of the House Oversight Committee, according to Valerie Vazquez-Diaz, spokeswoman for the New York City Board of Elections.
In the Bronx, city council member Ritchie Torres beat a crowded field for an open seat, and will likely join another freshman from New York, Mondaire Jones in Westchester County, as the two first openly gay Black or Latino members of Congress. Maloney, Torres and Jones all come from strongly Democratic districts and are expected to prevail in the general election.
“It’s official. We won!” Torres tweeted Tuesday night. “The counting took longer than expected, but today the (Board of Elections) certified our victory . . .”
Maloney’s campaign manager Matthew Koos confirmed his boss’s win and said he watched the board hearing where they all voted to certify it.
The very tight, contested race between Maloney and Patel has become a flash point for President Donald Trump, who has sought to use its slow results and a court battle over invalidated mail-in ballots to push his unfounded claims that vote by mail is subject to widespread voter fraud as states expand the practice amid the coronavirus pandemic that makes voting in person a public health risk.
“They have no clue what’s going on,” Trump said in his Monday news conference at the White House. “I think I can say right here and now you have to rerun that race because it’s a mess. Nobody knows what’s happening with the ballots and the lost ballots and the fraudulent ballots, I guess.”
During his Tuesday briefing, Trump brought up the race again, saying, “I think you have to do that election over. That election is no good.”
While the large number of mail-in ballots may have slowed and complicated results, neither Maloney nor Patel have alleged anything nefarious in how votes were cast. Patel rejected Trump’s assertion last week that ballots have gone or will go “missing” during a briefing in which he called mail-in voting a “disaster” and argued that people should be obligated to cast their votes in person.
Maloney’s lead over Patel after in-person voting was 658 votes, with 65,000 mail-in ballots (the most of any district in New York City) still to be counted. Her final margin of victory over Patel is 3,700 votes, with 13,000 mail-in ballots declared invalid due to errors that violate election law, like missing postmarks and missing signatures.
Patel joined a lawsuit brought by a candidate for state Assembly and 14 voters in federal court against the New York State Board of Elections and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, to get a portion of those invalidated ballots counted – particularly ones with missing or late postmarks, which the lawsuit asserted were issues outside of voters’ control having to do with problems involving the U.S. Postal Service and the New York City Board of Elections.
Late Monday night, U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres ruled that some of the invalidated ballots must be counted.
Maloney applauded the judge’s decision, but also accused her opponent in a tweet of becoming “[Donald Trump’s] mouthpiece in disparaging mail voting, making unsupported claims of many thousands of ballots being invalidated when the true facts show a smaller number w/no effect on the results.”
Patel called Maloney comparing his effort to Trump’s “absurd on its face.”
“Our fight is the exact opposite of Donald Trump’s. We’re fighting against voter disenfranchisement. We have thousands of voters whose votes weren’t counted and we’re still fighting to get those counted,” he said Tuesday. “The democratic process doesn’t stop just when it becomes politically inconvenient for you.”
State Board of Elections co-chair Douglas Kellner issued a lengthy memo Tuesday admitting they had made mistakes.
“To those voters who did not have an opportunity to cast their ballots in the primary election, we should apologize for not doing more. Elected officials and others warned that we were not deploying sufficient resources to mail out absentee ballots in a timely manner, and in hindsight we could have done more to address that problem,” Kellner wrote.
Even though the New York City Board of Elections officially called the race for Maloney, Patel said he would not concede until the thousands of remaining ballots are counted – an estimated 800 to 1,200 in the first go-round, not enough to reverse the results – with some language that Patel believes leaves the door open to more challenges if the counted ballots reduce the margin significantly.
In a statement following the judge’s decision, Patel added that he was refusing to concede to shine a light on truth, “because the issues uncovered in our NY-12 election are now bigger than one candidate or one campaign.”
Maloney shot back on Twitter: “It is bigger than any one candidate or campaign. It’s about our democracy, and reinforcing @realDonaldTrump’s narrative. Concede. #NY12.”
The House would have the final say in seating a duly elected member of Congress.
The ballots at issue are ones that arrived at the Board of Election by the cutoff of June 30, but either without a postmark or with a postmark later than June 23, which was primary day.
Testimony revealed that Board of Election officials hadn’t printed enough ballots to send out to voters and had placed a massive printing order on June 21 for a June 23 election. That meant over 34,000 ballots were dropped off at the USPS in Brooklyn on June 22 to be sent out to voters, who would have to then receive them, fill them out, and make sure they were postmarked by June 23 for them to be considered valid.
One voter who became a plaintiff in the lawsuit even wrote on the outside of her ballot that she’d received her ballot on June 23.
Patel argued that 60 percent of the ballots sent out late went to voters in the portion of the 12th district who live in Brooklyn, “our communities of color, our lowest income communities.”
USPS officials also testified ballots dropped off on June 23 had a 60 percent chance of not being postmarked for June 23.
The judge’s injunction required that all ballots received on June 24 should be counted. That included those with missing postmarks and those with late postmarks of June 24. The court also concluded that there was a “virtual certainty” that ballots received on June 25 were mailed by June 23, and ordered them counted if they had a postmark of June 23 or earlier – or no postmark.
The decision applied statewide, after the plaintiffs produced evidence that at least 10 other counties invalidated ballots due to missing postmarks. Tuesday evening, the State Board of Elections appealed the decision, saying it would be “a tremendous burden on the local boards . . . preparing for the November general election and is unlikely to change the results in any contest.”
The New York decision has a major impact on the November federal election, for which Trump has repeatedly tried to sow distrust in the mail-in ballot process. Republican and Democratic voting experts agree that there is no great risk of increased voter fraud with increased mail-in voting.
On Monday, the president pointed to the Maloney race and said that an election largely reliant on mail-in ballots would prove a “great embarrassment to the country” and that the Postal Service wasn’t “prepared for a thing like this.”
President Trump has repeatedly threatened to dismantle the USPS, which has been close to bankruptcy in the pandemic. He recently appointed a Trump donor, Louis DeJoy, as Postmaster General, and DeJoy immediately implemented cost-cutting measures that included slowing the delivery of mail.
While Maloney had not joined the legal fight for the invalidated mail-in votes in her district to be counted, she announced Monday that in her role as House Oversight Committee chairwoman she’d invited DeJoy to testify “for his steps to slow down the mail,” particularly regarding mail-in ballots.
Kellner, in his memo, said the state should expect “double to triple the number of absentee ballots applications for the general election” and called for dramatically increasing the capacity to count mail-in ballots in a timely manner.
“We do not have the luxury to take six weeks to canvass the general election results,” he wrote.