NEW YORK CITY — Rep. Charlie Rangel's lead over State. Sen Adriano Espaillat has shrunk even further, with the longtime Congressman now hanging onto his seat by just 802 votes, five days after Tuesday’s contentious Congressional primary.
After finally counting ballots from all of the district's 506 voting precincts, the Board of Elections unofficial count as of late Saturday night put Rangel at 18,075 votes, versus Espaillat's 17,273 votes — a razor-thin margin of just 44.29 versus 42.33 percent.
The total does not include a reported 3,000 paper ballots that have yet to be counted, including absentee and affidavit ballots, which are submitted by voters who show up at the polls but whose names are missing from voter rolls. The Board of Elections is set to begin counting paper ballots on July 5.
"Four days after polls closed, we finally have a preliminary vote count, excluding thousands of paper ballots. With each new tally, Senator Espaillat's vote total increases," Espaillat spokesman Ibrahim Khan said in a statement.
"As paper ballots begin to be counted and this dead-heat race continues, we are grateful to all of our supporters and will continue to push for full transparency in counting every single vote," he said.
On election night, the board had declared Rangel the clear winner, with 45 percent of the vote. But it was soon discovered that dozens of precincts had been left out of the count, prompting the Espaillat camp to request intervention from the New York State Supreme Court, which is set to hold a hearing Monday.
Dominican leaders also called for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in to oversee the remainder of the counting Sunday, and opened a hotline where voters could file complaints about issues they may have encountered on voting day. Some Espaillat backers have accused Rangel-friendly poll workers of deliberately trying to prevent Dominican Americans from voting by turning them away from the polls.
According to sources familiar with the counting, about one-third of the affidavit ballots submitted Tuesday have been deemed legitimate, making it possible — but unlikely — that the outcome will be reversed, and Espaillat declared the winner of the race.
The Rangel campaign has repeated that it expects Rangel to remain victorious once the final vote tally is in.
The debacle has raised questions about the city's voting system, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted Friday as “the most easily corruptible” in the world.
The city switched two years ago from its old lever machines to new, optical scanning machines, which force voters to write in their choices on paper ballots and feed them into machines, which later spit out receipts that elections workers count.
“Somebody argued that we should not use computers to count votes because computers can be hacked. So instead, the way it works now is papers come out, they cut — literally, they cut ‘em in pieces with a scissors — and they pass them around and then they add ‘em up,” said the mayor, describing the lengthy process for tallying votes with disdain.
“It is the most easily corruptible system," he charged.