Queens DA recount: Candidates Melinda Katz, Tiffany Caban spar over tossed ballots

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The primary for Queens district attorney -- which was already receiving national attention as a proxy for the national fight between different Democratic factions -- has taken another turn as the tally of paper ballots reversed the initial results and the closed margin to force an automatic recount.

The New York City Board of Elections said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz now has a razor-thin lead -- with a 20-vote edge over political newcomer Tiffany Caban, who had held a 1,090-vote lead with 99 percent of precincts reporting on primary night last week. But this week, the board counted absentee ballots, giving Katz the lead.

Caban, on the other hand, said she's ready to take legal action, saying the Board of Elections threw out more than 2,000 paper ballots.

"We are still fighting to make sure every valid ballot is counted," Caban said in a statement. "We are confident that if that happens, we will be victorious.

Katz fired back at this allegation, claiming the tossed ballots were invalid.

"On the details of those that were considered invalid, you're going to have to talk with the lawyers and the Board of Elections, but only registered Democrats can vote in this election and in their district where they are registered," she said.

Katz claimed victory even though she says she knows there will be legal challenges, but more ballots still need to be counted on Friday. She took a victory lap with her supporters in Queens on Thursday.

"Most of all I look forward to starting as the Queens District Attorney on January 1st," Katz said.

Caban, a public defender, had claimed victory the week prior and said she is confident she will ultimately pull out a win.

"Queens voters are inspired by Tiffany Caban's campaign and her vision for real criminal justice reform," Caban campaign spokeswoman Monica Klein said. "If every valid paper ballot vote is counted, we are confident we will prevail."

The contest in Queens, a borough of nearly 2.4 million people, is serving as a dual referendum on criminal justice reform and progressive politics.

All the Democrats largely embraced changes that already have been implemented to some degree by the top prosecutors in Manhattan and Brooklyn, such as reducing prosecutions for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

But Caban, 31, who identifies as a queer Latina, has promised to take things further, saying more radical reform was needed to change a cycle of mass incarceration. She has promised to stop prosecuting recreational drug use, prostitution and small-time crimes like subway fare evasion, and seek less punitive sentences for many felonies.

She says the criminal justice system is rigged against the poor and was backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, while the 53-year-old Katz is the favorite of the state's Democratic Party establishment.

Katz has never worked in criminal law, but she was the best-financed candidate in the race. She had also promised major reforms to the district attorney's office, including curtailing prosecutions of women for prostitution.

The winner will be favored to win the November general election to succeed longtime District Attorney Richard Brown. He died in May at age 86.

Either Katz or Caban would be the first woman to serve as Queens district attorney.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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