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Rangel re-election faces vote-count hurdle in N.Y.

Trice Edney Wire | 7/11/2012, 5 p.m.

The decades-long and storied career of New York Congressman Charlie Rangel (D) could be ending on a sour note.

Rangel claimed victory, and his major opponent State Sen. Adriano Espaillat conceded defeat June 29, after early returns showed the 40-year congressman with a comfortable lead over his rivals in the primary race for the Democratic nomination to compete in November for 13th congressional district seat.

But as election officials conducted a manual count of votes in the district, which includes parts of Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, Rangel's lead began to dwindle.

At last count, he was ahead of Espaillat by only 802 votes, or about 2 percentage points. And as the New York City Board of Elections completes its count of 2,600 absentee and affidavit ballots, the congressman's political future--already weakened by ethics transgressions--seems to be dangling by a thread.

But even if he does come out ahead, the contentious race may be far from over. At a press conference on July 2, Espaillat accused the board of elections of bungling the voting, calling it a "murky process."

The lawmaker rattled off a list of alleged failures, including a shortage of Spanish translators and reports from voters that they had been turned away from the polls.

"We cannot have a Florida type of situation in New York State," the New York Times said Espaillat told reporters outside a senior center in Washington Heights.

"I have received hundreds of complaints of voter suppression, and voters being turned away," he added. "We will go to court, and we will go to the final round. I am going to fight to ensure that every single vote is counted."

Since then the situation has grown even murkier.

Campaign operatives for Espaillat are questioning the invalidation this week of more than 2,000 additional paper votes.

"We've found 192 people in Manhattan whose affidavit ballots were disqualified, but who show up as Democratic voters on the rolls," said Aneiry Batista, coordinator of the recount operation for the Espaillat campaign, in a New York Daily News article. "And we're not even halfway through those that were disqualified."

Additionally, in the Bronx, poll workers failed to identify the election and assembly district on about 170 disqualified ballots, something which is required by law.

What's more, according to the Daily News, Rangel's campaign may have influenced at least one election official. On June 23, Timothy Gay, the deputy chief clerk for Manhattan's Board of Elections--and the person currently supervising the count of the votes in the Manhattan part of the 13th congressional district--met with key Rangel operatives and supporters in Harlem, according to the newspaper.

In response to the allegation, Gay said he attended the Harlem meeting at the request of the Manhattan Democratic chairman, to provide "district leaders with lists of their Democratic inspectors assigned to their specific districts" and to "discuss election matters in general."

Rangel was elected to the House in 1971 and currently is the third-longest serving member of the House and is the dean of the New York delegation to Congress.