Rep. Carolyn Maloney declares victory over Suraj Patel after NYC certifies disputed primary vote

The Patel campaign did not concede defeat in the contentious case, citing a pending court case about tossed ballots

Published August 4, 2020 7:28PM (EDT)

Rep Carolyn Maloney and Suraj Patel (Salon/Getty Images/Suraj Patel Official Campaign)
Rep Carolyn Maloney and Suraj Patel (Salon/Getty Images/Suraj Patel Official Campaign)

The New York City Board of Elections has certified the final count in a contentious, drawn-out Democratic primary in the 12th Congressional District, with long-time incumbent Rep. Carolyn Maloney declaring a narrow victory over progressive challenger Suraj Patel, Salon can report.

Though the Patel campaign acknowledged the certification of the vote to Salon, it did not concede defeat, citing the resolution of its pending court case challenging thousands of discarded mail-in ballots in the controversial election.

"I'm thrilled the voters of NY-12 have decided to return me to Congress for another term," Maloney told Salon in a statement. "I look forward to continuing my work as Oversight chair, particularly in light of the challenges New York faced in this primary, and which we must address before November's general election. I have already and will continue to hold hearings on the matter, and will continue my work to ensure the Post Office and our election process are set up for success with the funding and integrity they need."

The Patel campaign, meanwhile, called the certification preliminary. 

"The count has been preliminarily certified subject to our court ruling," Patel spokesperson Cassie Moreno told Salon. "It should concern all of us that the state is now appealing a decision — using taxpayer money — to fight to keep votes from being counted. If our opponent's claims are true, why does she want the count to stop now? Why doesn't she want votes to be counted? We'll continue to shine a light on this situation as far as it goes, because it's so much bigger than us now. It's about the right to have your vote counted in the midst of a global pandemic."

An election lawyer on the ground told Salon that at the time of certification, Maloney was ahead by more than 3,700 votes with fewer than 1,000 ballots to be counted in a four-way race. The lawyer acknowledged the pending court case, which is anticipated to be settled Aug. 10, but concluded: "Final answer, all that notwithstanding: Maloney is fine."

At a Tuesday press conference, President Donald Trump, who for months has peddled baseless conspiracy theories to discredit mail-in voting, called the election a "disaster" which required a do-over.

Moreno told Salon that the city elections board, while certifying results today, also said it awaits guidance from its state counterpart, as directed in Monday's court order.

A controversy over mail-in ballots involving postmarks and delivery dates led the city to toss about 12,500 ballots. The hangup is not about voting by mail per se but rather an unanticipated bureaucratic glitch emerging from a brand new process, which led to thousands of ballots going without a postmark, rendering them invalid.

"The additional votes a federal judge has ruled must be counted are expected to diminish Rep. Maloney's margin and potentially change the outcome of the race as a whole," Moreno said.

But a New York Post analysis of the court filing shows that only about 691 of the designated ballots are left to be counted, which would not erase Maloney's current 3,700-vote margin.

However, Patel signed on to a lawsuit challenging the state to validate additional discarded ballots, such as those without signatures. His campaign maintains that difference could still change the outcome, whereas Maloney says the process has been completed to her satisfaction.

Maloney joined Patel and the two other candidates in a statement calling for the city to count every ballot received by June 26, regardless of whether it has a postmark, but she declined to join the suit.

Ahead of the primary, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., issued an executive order expanding mail-in ballots regardless of voter need to help ensure election continuity amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In previous elections, absentee voters had to pay for their own postage, but Cuomo's emergency expansion ordered local boards of elections to distribute postage-paid ballots.

However, postage-paid envelopes are not typically stamped by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). A sizable portion of these absentee ballots were returned without a dated postmark, disqualifying them under the law.

The city elections board had instructed USPS offices to postmark all ballots, but it appears the policy was not applied consistently throughout the city, specifically in the 12th District.

The city had never processed mail-in ballots at any rate near this volume. Voters returned 408,000 of the approximately 778,000 absentee ballots sent out this year, per the board. For perspective, as Gothamist pointed out, the total number of city absentee ballots cast in all 2016 elections — including all primaries on national, state and local levels as well as the general election — was less than 300,000.

A federal judge in Manhattan ruled Monday that the city elections board had to count more than 1,000 of the disputed ballots. Patel applauded the ruling, which he said raised red flags ahead of the general election.

"This is no longer a Democratic or a Republican fight. This is not an establishment versus progressive fight," he said. "This is now a fight for the voting rights of millions in a pandemic."

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

MORE FROM Roger Sollenberger

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Carolyn Maloney Democrats Donald Trump Elections Elections 2020 New York Suraj Patel Voting By Mail