The Queens D.A. Race Has a Winner. Here’s Why It’s Still Not Over. – The New York Times

[What you need to know to start the day: Get New York Today in your inbox.]

The New York City Board of Elections on Monday certified Melinda Katz, the Queens borough president, as the winner of the June 25 Democratic primary for Queens district attorney, the culmination of a 34-day election battle that was one of the closest and most bitter in recent New York City history.

But the board’s certification does not end the contest: One of Ms. Katz’s opponents, Tiffany Cabán, has already filed a lawsuit challenging the results, which have her losing to Ms. Katz by a mere 60 votes.

Nor does it end the identity crisis that the race represented for the Democratic Party. Supporters of both campaigns have cast the outcome as a verdict on the future of the left, with backers of Ms. Cabán, a former public defender and democratic socialist, describing her candidacy as a rebuke to machine politics, and supporters of Ms. Katz, the favored candidate of top Democratic leaders, accusing the other side of aggravating the party’s polarization.

That battle seemed all but certain to rage on, even as Ms. Katz claimed victory on Monday after a two-week manual recount.

“This is a great day for the people of Queens, who have waited patiently for the long recount process to conclude,” Ms. Katz said in a statement. “While it is everyone’s right to avail themselves of the judicial process, I urge all participants in this hard-fought election to come together and join me in beginning the hard work of reforming the criminal justice system in Queens.”

But Ms. Cabán refused to concede, citing the broader mandate of reform that she had invoked throughout the campaign, and which propelled the race to national attention.

She said that more than 100 ballots had been improperly not counted, likening that to voter suppression.

“This race is not over,” Ms. Cabán said at a news conference on Thursday, when the results of the recount first became clear. “Our campaign will be in court to protect Queens voters from being disenfranchised by New York’s restrictive and undemocratic voting laws.”

Monica Klein, a spokeswoman for Ms. Cabán, called the certification a “formality” that would allow the campaign’s lawsuit to move forward.

That the certification was seen by many as just a step rather than a final result underscored the topsy-turvy nature of the race. On the night of the election, Ms. Cabán had declared victory, citing a 1,100-vote margin. But a delayed count of paper ballots on July 3 put Ms. Katz ahead by 20 votes.

That slim margin automatically triggered a manual recount — the first ever to span a full county, according to state elections officials. Over the past two weeks, Board of Elections staff members crowded into a nondescript mall in Queens — also home to a BJ’s Wholesale Club and a Burger King — to tally every ballot by hand, while volunteers and lawyers for both candidates stood guard.

The recount process itself was painstaking and dull. But it unfolded against a backdrop of mistrust and mutual recrimination, as Ms. Cabán’s supporters hurled accusations of voter fraud and suppression. Ms. Katz’s supporters — including prominent elected officials such as Representative Gregory Meeks — suggested that Ms. Cabán’s backers were gentrifiers inconsiderate of nonwhite voters, many of whom supported Ms. Katz. (Ms. Katz is white, and Ms. Cabán is Latina.)

Ms. Cabán’s supporters have already pointed to the looming court battle, when Ms. Cabán’s lawyers plan to argue that elections officials improperly discarded dozens of ballots — more than enough to flip the election yet again if reinstated.

Many of those ballots were invalidated for technical reasons, such as an eligible Democratic voter showing up to the wrong polling site, or not writing “Democrat” on the ballot. Poll workers are responsible for ensuring that voters fill out affidavit ballots correctly, said Jerry Goldfeder, a lawyer for Ms. Cabán.

Still, it is impossible to know how much those disputed ballots would change the outcome even if they were reinstated. Invalidated ballots were not opened, so there is no way of knowing if they would add to Ms. Cabán’s tally or Ms. Katz’s.

It is unclear how long the court proceedings will take. In 2012, a special election for a Brooklyn State Senate seat led to an automatic recount; David Storobin, a Republican, ultimately won by 16 votes, 72 days after the election.

In 2004, a race in Westchester County led to the longest-running contest for a Senate seat since before the Great Depression. The contest between Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democratic county legislator, and the Republican incumbent, Nick Spano, set off a three-month court battle that ended with an 18-vote win for Mr. Spano. (Ms. Stewart-Cousins, who won a 2006 rematch, is now the leader of the State Senate.)

In the meantime, observers have given up on trying to predict the outcome.

Jerry Skurnik, a longtime political consultant, said he thought Ms. Cabán would be hard-pressed to make up a 60-vote lead with about 100 disputed ballots. But then again, he said, “I thought it was hard to see how Katz could overcome an 1,100-vote margin with so few absentee ballots.

“I’ve been completely wrong about this race,” Mr. Skurnik added. “So nothing will surprise me.”