In Queens district attorney race, voters want affidavit ballots counted

Attorneys for candidates Melinda Katz and Tiffany Cabán are fighting in court over invalidated ballots while a manual recount continues.

When Mark Miller filled out an affidavit ballot on June 25 to vote in the Democratic primary for Queens district attorney, he believed his vote would count.

With his toddler in tow, Miller, a registered Democrat, had gone to Frank Sinatra School of the Arts high school in Astoria, where he has voted several times in the past 11 years. But the poll workers sent him to another polling location, only for him to be told there that the Sinatra school was the correct location.

“It’s getting late, polls are about to close, I have my toddler with me who’s getting pretty ornery, and the guy says, ‘Look I’ll give you an affidavit vote,’ ” Miller, 48, recalled.

The worker told him the Board of Elections would open the affidavit ballot only if the race is close, but assured him that if it was opened it would count, Miller said. But because he was at the wrong polling location, his ballot wasn’t counted.

Miller’s ballot is one of the hundreds of affidavits that were invalidated in the race, which has Queens Borough President Melinda Katz beating public defender Tiffany Cabán by fewer than two dozen votes. A manual recount of all ballots began this week.

Cabán’s campaign has challenged the invalidation of dozens of ballots, some of which, like Miller’s, were cast at the wrong polling site, and says it is fighting “to protect the voting rights of all eligible Democrats across Queens.”

The Katz campaign is “committed to ensuring that every legally valid vote gets counted,” campaign adviser Matthew Rey said in a statement, but he did not comment on specific ballots in contention.

Poll workers should have known affidavit ballots cast at the wrong polling place wouldn’t be counted, Cabán campaign lawyer Jerry Goldfeder said. “Some voters who voted in the wrong place have been disenfranchised,” he said.  

Grae Fee, another Queens voter, was told they were at the wrong place, but the workers didn’t know where to send them.

“They were like, ‘Oh that’s no big deal, a couple people have done that, just fill out this paper ballot and you’re good to go,’ ” Fee, 22, of Maspeth, said. “I was given every indication that I was voting.”

But like Miller’s, Fee’s affidavit wasn’t counted because it was cast at the wrong location.

“I think it was just people making errors, just well-intentioned people trying to get it right,” Miller said, adding, “I just want my vote to count. That’s all. I hope all the votes are counted.”

Other voters who filled out affidavits made the mistake of not writing “Democrat” in the party affiliation field on the affidavit form, which caused their ballots to be invalidated, as well.

One of those voters, Joseph Moore, had moved from Harlem to Elmhurst less than a month before the primary. His name wasn’t showing up at the polling site for his new address, so he filled out an affidavit ballot.

“The poll worker looked over it, didn’t say anything about any problems with the way I filled it out, so I assumed everything was fine,” Moore, 42, said.

But days after the election, when he saw reports about affidavit votes not being counted, he got worried. He reached out to the Cabán campaign and was told his ballot didn’t count because he failed to write “Democrat” on it.

“There’s no notice that states that failure to write your party affiliation will result in your vote being thrown out. That’s obviously a very important piece of information,” said Moore, who had filled out an affidavit only one other time in his life.

Cabán’s campaign is also challenging the invalidation of ballots like Moore’s, arguing that it’s the poll workers’ responsibility to ensure voters include their party affiliation on affidavit ballots.

The contested ballots are being reviewed, and the next court date in the case was scheduled for Aug. 6. The decision on these ballots, however, is expected to come after the manual recount is complete.

The elections board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nicole Brown