A national Hispanic civil rights group is asking the Department of Justice to investigate alleged voter suppression in the Democratic primary in the 13th congressional district.
The group, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, has sent a letter to the DOJ voicing concern that Spanish-speaking voters found it difficult to cast ballots because they were unable to receive Spanish-language assistance and were turned away, or were told to vote by affidavit ballots, according to a statement by the organization.
The appeal to the DOJ by LatinoJustice, which recently was among several voter advocacy groups that sued Florida over its decision to target more than 2,600 registered voters whose citizenship was questionable, comes as veteran U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel has seen his lead over the runner-up dwindle to slightly more than 800 votes.
Some 2,000 absentee and affidavit ballots remain to be counted; the result is expected to be announced Thursday.
New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who came in second, is questioning Rangel’s claim of victory. The veteran congressman is seeking the nomination for his 22nd term in Congress.
On Monday, a New York state Supreme Court judge heard claims made by the Espaillat campaign that votes were tallied improperly by the New York City Board of Elections.
But then Espaillat’s lawyers were given permission from the court to withdraw their petition in their fight to unseat Rangel, so they can refile using broader legal arguments.
“The people of the 13th congressional district must be reassured that when they go to vote, that the person they vote for, that the system will allow for a fair election and in fact those that got the most votes legitimately will represent them,” said Espaillat
“Here we are a week later, right, and we still don’t have a final count. Is this the America we all believe in?”
Espaillat spokesman Ibrahim Khan says the court’s move lets them keep their legal options open while they fight for transparency. He says the campaign could now push for a new election.
In a letter to the DOJ, LatinoJustice president Juan Cartagena said that the apparent “dearth of available bilingual poll workers in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx...raise serious concerns concerning the propriety of the NYC Board of Elections handling of Tuesday’s congressional primary.”
Rangel campaign manager Moises Perez says both sides want clarity. He says he's seen no evidence to suggest there's been a problem with transparency.
District 13 stretches from El Barrio, through Harlem, up to Washington Heights and a small part of the Bronx.
"Voters have been pushed away, and as a result many feel that they were suppressed from voting," Espaillat said. “The legitimacy of this election is at place right now ... there was a level of voter suppression. We are here to protect a process that must be reliable."
Rangel, who was first elected in 1970, declared victory in the Democratic primary, despite redistricting and the shadow of his censure by the House in a tax and ethics scandal two years ago.
Espaillat's supporters charge that votes were intentionally suppressed, not counted, and even tampered with. They are demanding that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder step in and launch a federal investigation of the election.
"There was a concerted effort to really steal the election from the community," claimed voter and Espaillat supporter Marilu Garvin. "In the Bronx, they were told that ‘this is a Republican election, not a Democratic election,’" he said about the Democratic primary.
"They were asking for ID's," said voter Espana Arristy. "That’s not requested in order to vote."
Espaillat's supporters told Fox News that some voters were told that their names did not appear on the voting lists, and that poll workers even allegedly tampered with completed paper ballots by opening the envelopes after they were voted.
"Over 70 electoral districts came in at zero on election night. Imagine this, 70 election districts came in at zero on election night, with no results whatsoever," said Espaillat. "That is highly irregular."
A group that supports Espaillat, the Dominican American National Roundtable, fears the alleged election activities were an attempt to throw the election to Rangel.
"We believe that there was a concerted effort to suppress or deny Latino voters," said group president Maria Teresa Montilla. She told Fox News they received "countless reports" of problems, including affidavit ballots that she says "were not properly guarded."
"If people think their vote doesn't count, if people think somebody's stealing their votes or buying their votes or that the machine reads don't actually record their votes, this is a real blow to the system. We need to believe in this system for it to work," said New York Post political columnist and Fox News contributor Michael Goodwin, who has covered New York City politics for decades.
"Something definitely went wrong. I think there's no question. Now part of it may be simple human error in the sense that these are new district lines, new polling places in many cases," he said. "However this works out, I think this is not good for the integrity and the perception of the integrity in the electoral process."
Meanwhile, Rangel sent out a fundraising e-mail asking for donations "to prepare myself for another battle -- whether it's a legal battle with the Board of Elections or with my opponent."
Rangel said, "to my surprise, my opponent's campaign pounced on me on Friday, saying that I had somehow stolen their votes! I'm completely baffled by the situation and the way my opponent has been reacting."
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