Freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in her New York district on Tuesday while other members of Congress faced insurgent challengers in races that may not be decided for at least a week. (Track the votes here as results continue to come in.)
The mostly unsatisfying end to primary day came after a pandemic-era campaign season in which in-person politicking was curtailed, polling places consolidated, and all voters were encouraged to cast their ballots by mail, rather than risk getting exposed to the coronavirus at a polling location.
Nearly 1.8 million people requested absentee ballots. They had until Tuesday to mail them. Counting of those votes won't begin until at least July 1, and could last several days or even weeks.
Voters who braved the polls in person reported scattered problems with incomplete ballots, and as polls closed at 9 p.m. there were reports of exceedingly long lines in suburbs north of New York City.
Numerous social media posts Tuesday night showed people still waiting in the dark outside several polling sites in Westchester County more than an hour after the polls closed. That included some polling locations in the 16th congressional district, where U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel was locked in an unresolved Democratic primary battle with Jamaal Bowman.
Bowman shared video of the lines on Twitter and called them “terrible.”
New York state Attorney General Letitia James’ office had gotten about 150 complaints by mid-afternoon, many about voters not getting absentee ballots in time for the election. The good-government advocacy group Common Cause New York had fielded about 100 complaints about similar issues, largely in New York City, and about some poll sites grappling with spotty wireless service.
It’s not unusual for New York elections to have some glitches. On Tuesday, “the unique problem was the two-page ballot,” Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner said. Presidential and congressional primary candidates were on one page, with state and local primary hopefuls on another. Some people complained they only got one of the ballot sheets.
Voter Dena Cooper said she applied in roughly April for an absentee ballot that never arrived, so she went to her polling place in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood to vote in person. But when she explained the situation to a poll worker, she was told to go home and wait for the absentee ballot.
“They said, ‘You can’t vote. You need to go back,’” she said in an interview. “I feel turned away.”
In fact, New York voters who have applied for but not cast absentee ballots can legally vote in person. After getting advice from Common Cause’s voter-information hotline, Cooper said she returned to the polls Tuesday evening and successfully cast her ballot.
Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist who upset powerful Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley in the 2018 primary, rejoiced in her victory after beating primary opponents including former CNBC broadcaster Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.
Ocasio-Cortez, whose district includes parts of the Bronx and Queens, said in a video posted to Twitter that her victory came despite Wall Street support for Caruso-Cabrera. “No amount of money can buy a movement,” she said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Engel waited to see if they would withstand similar challenges. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee faced a challenge from Bowman, a former middle school principal endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders. The district includes parts of the Bronx and suburban Westchester County.
While not declaring victory in the race, Bowman told a gathering of supporters late Tuesday, “I am fired up. I cannot wait to get to Congress and cause problems for the people in there who have been maintaining a status quo that is literally killing our children.”
Engel said in a statement, “With so many absentee ballots outstanding and many still coming in, we know that the full results in the primary won’t be known for some time.” He added that he is “proud of his progressive record.”
Republican state Sen. Chris Jacobs swept a doubleheader in western New York to win a House seat formerly held by U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, who resigned just before pleading guilty to insider trading last fall. Jacobs won a special election to serve out the remainder of Collins’ term. He also won a three-way primary to be the Republican candidate in November’s general election. In the special election, Jacobs beat Democrat Nate McMurray, a former town supervisor. The two will face off again in November.
U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke faced several primary opponents in her Brooklyn district including Adem Bunkeddeko, a Harvard Business School graduate who also ran against her in 2018. Bunkeddeko challenged Clarke over corporate donors and her record in Congress.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney also faced a repeat challenger in Suraj Patel, who ran against her in the 2018 primary and was one of three opponents on Tuesday’s ballot. Patel criticized Maloney for supporting a failed deal to use government tax breaks and other subsidies to help Amazon build a secondary headquarters in Queens. The district includes parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
The retirements of Democrats Jose Serrano in the Bronx and Nita Lowey in the suburbs north of New York City resulted in large primary fields in those two districts.
The top candidates for Serrano’s seat included City Council member Ruben Diaz Sr., a social conservative who opposes abortion rights and LGBT rights. One of his foes, City Council member Ritchie Torres, is a gay man who is backed by several LGBT organizations hoping to head off a win by Diaz.
Candidates for Lowey’s seat include Mondaire Jones, an attorney endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, as well as former prosecutor and pharmaceutical heir Adam Schleifer and former Defense Department official Evelyn Farkas.
In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, New York City Democratic incumbents who won their primaries included Gregory Meeks, whose district includes parts of Queens and Nassau County, and Grace Meng in central Queens. Nydia Velazquez, whose district spans Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, and Adriano Espaillat, whose district includes upper Manhattan and part of the Bronx, were victorious as well.
Several of the districts in New York City and its suburbs are so overwhelmingly Democratic that the winner of the party’s primary is almost certain to win election in November, while districts in some other parts of the state are more competitive.
The retirement of Republican Rep. Peter King leaves his Long Island seat open as well, and Democrats believe they have a good chance of winning the seat in November. State Assembly members Andrew Garbarino and Mike LiPetri were running in the Republican primary, while school guidance counselor Jackie Gordon faced activist Patricia Maher in the Democratic primary.