HARLEM — Rep. Charles Rangel held a slim lead Wednesday over his main challenger state Sen. Adriano Espaillat in the 13th Congressional District Democratic Primary, but Espaillat has refused to concede the race until "every single vote" is counted.
With 100 percent of the districts reporting, Rangel has accrued 47.4 percent of the votes compared to Espaillat's 43.7 percent, a difference of less than 2,000 votes, according to the Board of Elections. The Associated Press has called the election for Rangel, but Espaillat has said he wants to wait until all of the votes, including absentee ballots and affidavits, are counted, before conceding.
"As we learned in 2012, every single vote needs to be counted in this race," Espaillat said in a statement, referring to the last time he ran against Rangel. "Given the thousands of votes outstanding, the people of Upper Manhattan and The Bronx deserve a full accounting of every vote to achieve a complete and accurate tally in this race."
That process could drag into next week, officials said.
According to the Board of Elections, there are currently 738 validated absentee ballots in Manhattan and 242 in The Bronx. However, absentee ballots may be received in the mail through Tuesday, said Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez.
The BOE is still tallying affidavits, which are ballots cast by individuals whose names were not in BOE records in the district where they voted.
The validated ballots will be opened up and counted next Wednesday, Vazquez said.
But Rangel and his supporters didn't wait to celebrate victory.
"The chairman has won! The chairman has won," Rep. Gregory Meeks, fresh off of his own primary victory, shouted last night as he held Rangel's hand aloft.
The 22-term congressman also declared that he had won a "great victory" that he felt "unified the district."
"Words cannot describe my overwhelming gratitude to the voters of the 13th congressional district of our great state for standing with me to the very end and giving this veteran his one last fight," Rangel said in a statement late Tuesday.
The Rev. Al Sharpton also acknowledged Rangel as the winner of the contest on MSNBC and Rangel has also agreed to appear at a "unity rally" Saturday at the headquarters of Sharpton's National Action Network.
"Now that the campaign is over and Congressman Rangel has won, we look forward to coming together and addressing the issues facing the 13th Congressional District,” Rangel senior campaign advisor Charlie King said in a statement.
The too-close-to-call result on election night mirrors what happened in the 2012 primary when Rangel claimed victory over Espaillat only to see the margin of victory decline as new votes were discovered.
Entire precincts were not counted and Rangel's margin of victory dipped to 802 votes with 3,000 outstanding paper ballots remaining to be counted.
Espaillat then withdrew his concession and said he needed to wait until all the absentee ballots and affidavits were counted before a victor could be declared. At the same time, Espaillat filed a lawsuit alleging voting fraud, which he eventually dropped.
Vazquez said workers did not have the same issues yesterday as they did in 2012
"In 2014 everything was done electronically. It's literally the data straight off the data sticks," she said. "The accuracy has improved from last time until now."
Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, said he doubts Espaillat can pull out a victory given the numbers of remaining paper ballots and barring any unforeseen circumstances.
The paper ballots tend to mirror machine voting patterns, experts say.
"The numbers are similar to last time around and Rangel has a bigger lead this time around," Falcón said. "It's embarrassing to lose twice in a row and he has to come up with what he can to save face."
Espaillat's camp declined further comment, said spokeswoman Chelsea Connor.