(ALBANY, N.Y.) — After two days and roughly 2,000 hand-counted paper ballots, Rep. Charlie Rangel’s lead in the New York primary has widened to 951 votes, four times the half-a-percentage-point margin of victory necessary to trigger a recount.
But 10 days after Rangel, 82, was prematurely declared the winner in the June 26 Democratic primary, his win was still unofficial and what may be his last election to Congress was still in question.
New York State Board of Elections officials were wading through more than 2,000 ballots that were originally deemed invalid.
As Rangel’s lead grew, his opponent, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, turned to the courts to block the 21-term congressman from heading back to Washington in January.
Espaillat’s campaign filed a lawsuit with the New York State Supreme Court this week alleging that many of the ballots deemed invalid at the polling sites should not be discarded and that those invalid ballots came disproportionately from Latino districts that supported Espaillat.
“We’ve found 192 people in Manhattan whose affidavit ballots were disqualified but who show up as Democratic voters on the rolls,” Aneiry Batista, coordinator of the recount operation for the Espaillat campaign, told the New York Daily News. “And we’re not even halfway through those that were disqualified.”
Despite completing the hand count of all mail-in absentee ballots and affidavit ballots, which are from people who were not listed on the registration rolls when they went to cast their vote, the board cannot certify the election results until the court signs off on the count.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to make sure every vote is counted,” Espaillat’s campaign spokesman, Ibrahim Khan, told ABC News.
Khan said “there is a real concern” that many of the discarded ballots are valid and should be counted.
But Rangel’s campaign manager, Moises Perez, said Rangel’s “lead, quite frankly, appears to be insurmountable,” and that he is confident any court challenges will not stop Rangel from winning the primary.
“It will more than likely not change the outcome at all,” Perez told ABC News. “The lead will be so much bigger than what they can put on the table.”
Espaillat’s court challenge alleged that there was voter suppression at the polls and has asked the court to order a recount or possibly a re-do election.
Perez said he has not seen “any evidence of voter suppression,” as Espaillat charged in his lawsuit. Instead, Perez added, the controversy over some of the invalidated ballots stems from voters being confused about where to vote in their newly re-drawn districts.
“Every election is like that, particularly when you have a brand-new district,” Perez said. “Everyone who lives in the fringe of the new district, many people around the fringes are confused.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Tom LoBianco, Deirdre Walsh and Tal Kopan, CNN
Shelbie Harris, Idaho State Journal