The city’s hottest primary election is the 12th Congressional District.
In one corner, you have Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a pal of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s who has been in Congress since 1993 and was recently elected chair of the House Oversight Committee. In the other is Suraj Patel, a former Obama campaign staffer and attorney who has never held public office and helped run his family’s business constructing and franchising hotels in the Midwest before moving to New York in 2006.
Their contest has everything. The Upper East Side. The Lower East Side. A tenacious, white, wealthy 74-year-old Democratic incumbent. A 36-year-old Indian American challenger who has taught at New York University’s business school and aims to be the state’s first South Asian representative in Congress. Just 648 in-person votes are separating them, with 65,000 mail-in ballots still being counted. And an entire district of 718,000 people across three boroughs have no idea who their next representative will be — a full month after Election Day.
“It’s been dysfunctional to the extreme,” said Brian Van Nieuwenhoven, treasurer of the Samuel J. Tilden Democratic Club in the district.
At the center of this mess is a massive influx of mail-in ballots — 403,000 returned ballots in the city this cycle vs. 23,000 that were returned and determined valid during the 2016 primary — and a system wholly unprepared to process them. It’s not just delayed results that are at issue: In the 12th District and in the primaries across the country, tens of thousands of mail-in ballots were invalidated for technicalities like a missing signature or a missing postmark on the envelope.
This isn’t the only primary race in New York still up in the air. The 15th Congressional District in the Bronx, where New York City Council member Ritchie Torres holds a healthy lead, still hasn’t been called. Two other primaries in the Bronx and Westchester, won by Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones, were not decided for three weeks.