BRONX COUNTY COURTHOUSE — Rep. Charlie Rangel's lead over State Sen. Adriano Espaillat widened Thursday as election workers began to tally several thousand outstanding ballots in the contentious primary race that remains too close to call.
Rangel now leads Espaillat by 945 votes, up from a razor-thin 802-vote margin, with thousands of absentee and affidavit ballots still left to be counted, according to new Board of Election numbers announced late Thursday.
But the vote certification could be delayed after a Bronx Judge ruled —as the votes were being counted — that the Board of Elections won't be allowed to send the certified results to the state until he signs off on the final count.
Bronx Supreme Court Justice John Carter's preliminary order also forced elections workers to begin making photocopies of all of the outstanding ballots as they’re being counted to preserve them as evidence.
While Rangel was originally declared the decisive winner in the contentious June 26 primary race, his lead began to dwindle as new votes were discovered. The outcome now hinges on about 5,000 absentee, special and affidavit ballots — half of which are believed to be valid, the board’s lawyers said.
The judge's decision marks the latest in the heated battle between the veteran congressman and his Dominican-born challenger, who has alleged that hundreds of his supporters were turned away from the polls in what attorney Leo Glickman described as concerted "voter suppression."
The "campaign received hundreds of reports from irate Latino enrolled Democrats that they were wrongly turned away from their polling places without being permitted to vote," his lawyers charged in their complaint, accusing inspectors of yelling at Hispanic voters, telling them there was no election, denying them affidavit ballots, and telling them their names were missing from voter rolls.
They also charged that bilingual poll workers were replaced at the last minute by English-speakers by "party leaders [who] were supporting … Rangel in the primary election."
The Bronx judge will give Espaillat’s team a chance to present specific evidence about the charges at next court date, July 11, at 10 a.m.
Board of elections lawyer Stephen Kitzinger said it was "inappropriate" for Espaillat to make accusations in the media without producing evidence.
"It's distressing to the board that these allegations have been made over a series of days, but no improprieties have been brought the board," he said
He also accused Espaillat’s team of "gross overreaching" with demands that they be allowed to more closely supervise the count, including inspecting secure voting machines.
Rangel’s lawyer, Arthur Greig, also slammed Espaillat’s lawyers for trying to accuse the Congressman of participating in any efforts to disenfranchise voters.
"It’s absolutely absurd for anybody to suggest Congressman Rangel… based on his long history of fighting for Civil Rights and voter rights, would ever have anything to do with any voter suppression,” he said. "Sen. Espaillat ought to be ashamed he's making that allegation."
"There are no factual allegations made," Greig railed. "Bring us the proof."
He also accused Espaillat of "playing politics" by trying to delay the vote in an effort to drum up media attention and support ahead of a run to defend his seat in the Senate.
Espaillat, he said, “just wants to keep his name in the press. He’s running against Mr. Linares. That's all this is,” he said, referring to Espaillat’s longtime rival, Assemblyman Guillermo Linares.
"He’s not going to overcome an 802-vote lead," Greig said.
The filing deadline for the senate race is on July 12.