A manual recount in the Republican primary election for a City Council seat on Staten Island got underway Wednesday with the two rival candidates looking on, one denying charges of possible voter fraud and the other of anti-immigrant discrimination.
Staff of the New York City Board of Elections began tallying 8,577 ballots cast in the 50th council district which spans a central swath of the island. A slim margin of just 42 votes separates the two candidates, with David Carr ahead after ranked-choice voting tabulations. Marko Kepi ended election night 647 votes behind but narrowed that margin after picking up three times more absentee-ballot votes than Carr.
Looming over the recount is the threat of multiple investigations into potential election fraud. Kepi, who attended “Stop the Steal” rallies last fall in support of former President Donald Trump, is now under investigation for allegedly fabricating absentee ballots to rig the election in his favor.
In the Board of Elections warehouse on the South Shore of Staten Island, overlooking New York Harbor, Kepi denied the allegations.
“I feel like I’m back in Communist Albania, honestly,” said Kepi, a former U.S. marine who was born in Albania. Kepi insisted his campaign ran a valid absentee-ballot operation among a tight-knit group of Albanians and Albanian-Americans who live in the district and that the Staten Island Republican Party was trying to undermine his campaign.
“They found every loophole, every way possible to disqualify voters,” he said. “I campaigned against the party candidate and the party lost and now the party doesn’t want to give up. So they’re doing everything they can to stop us from claiming our victory.”
Carr, who works as chief of staff to the term-limited Councilmember Steven Matteo, brought concerns about 1,000 absentee ballots collected by Kepi’s campaign to the Board of Elections and the Staten Island District Attorney. The DA’s office is investigating; The Board of Elections requested help from state and federal authorities to investigate potential election fraud earlier this month, pointing to signatures on absentee-ballot envelopes that didn’t match the board’s records and an instance in which a dead person cast a ballot.
Chapin Fay, a spokesperson for Kepi, countered with charges of discrimination, accusing Carr’s campaign of singling out people with Albanian names for objections.
“They didn’t object to Joe Smith. They’re objecting to Kepi’s and all the other Albanian names,” Chapin said. “I think in any other board of elections across the country there would be a firestorm of media about that. It’s crazy.”
Also at the warehouse to survey Wednesday’s recount, Carr denied discriminating against Albanians and said the issues in this race highlighted why New York should put stricter limitations on absentee voting.
“New York State is unfortunately not a voter ID law state, the only defense we have against election fraud is the signature comparison process and that’s what we did,” he said. “I believe that every legal vote should be counted and that’s what’s happening here today.”
Carr and Kepi have sued one another and will appear before State Supreme Court Judge Ralph Porzio likely in mid-August, once the Board of Elections has finished the manual recount of votes.
Kepi’s campaign said they’re prepared to bring in all the voters whose absentee ballots are in question to testify. Robert Straniere, a former state assembly member and Kepi attorney, said the winner of the race ultimately may be decided in court.
“So as Yogi Berra said, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over,’” he said.