DSA candidates get out the stay-at-home votes

DSA backed Phara Souffrant Forrest emerged victorious against Assembly Member Walter Mosley in Brooklyn.
DSA backed Phara Souffrant Forrest emerged victorious against Assembly Member Walter Mosley in Brooklyn.
Aneesh Bhoopathy
DSA backed Phara Souffrant Forrest emerged victorious against Assembly Member Walter Mosley in Brooklyn.

DSA candidates get out the stay-at-home votes

Breaking with history, mail-in ballots delivered big wins for progressives.
July 24, 2020

Several New York City progressives toppled longtime incumbent Assembly members after absentee ballots were tallied this week.

In Astoria, Zohran Mamdani, the only candidate backed by the Democratic Socialists of America in Queens, won the 36th Assembly District seat currently held by five-term Assembly Member Aravella Simotas. Emily Gallagher, a tenant housing activist, defeated 47-year incumbent Assembly Member Joseph Lentol in District 50, representing the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. And in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, DSA-backed nurse Phara Souffrant Forrest beat four-term Assembly Member Walter Mosley in District 57.

This comes just one week after DSA-endorsed former middle school principal Jammal Bowman won his race in the 16th Congressional District against 16-term Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, in the northern Bronx and Westchester County. Democratic socialist Marcela Mitaynes beat 13-term Assembly Member Félix Ortiz for the 51st District seat in Sunset Park and Red Hook, Brooklyn. And progressive lawyer and activist Mondaire Jones, who is likely to become one of the first Black and openly gay members of Congress, won the Democratic primary race to replace Rep. Nita Lowey in the 17th District, which includes Westchester and Rockland counties.

Despite the fact that absentee ballots have historically helped more establishment candidates, they largely skewed progressive in almost all of these races. Jones was announced as the victor three weeks after the primary, as a slew of absentee ballots came in for him. While Ortiz initially had a 464-vote lead over Mitaynes, she began to show a lead as absentee ballots were being counted, then beat the Assembly member by 240 votes. Souffrant Forrest trailed Mosley by 588 votes initially, but as mail-in ballots poured in, she overcame the incumbent. Gallagher, who was 1,763 votes behind Lentol at first, received 2,020 more mail-in ballots than he did, handing her the win. Public school teacher and democratic socialist candidate Jabari Brisport also defeated Assembly Member Tremaine Wright in the race for Brooklyn’s 25th state Senate District after absentee ballots pushed his lead to more than 10,000 votes.

Jonathan Nagler, a professor of politics at New York University, told City & State that it’s possible absentee ballots skewed progressive because progressive candidates encouraged their voters to use them. “My conjecture would be that this could just be good campaigning,” Nagler said. “That a set of progressive candidates decided, ‘We’re going to work on this, we’re going to make it easy for our folks to cast their ballots by educating them on how to do absentee voting.’”

It has been nearly a month since the primary election on June 23, but mail-in ballots are still being counted by the state Board of Elections, making it impossible to call some of the state’s closest legislative races. Rep. Carolyn Maloney and challenger Suraj Patel in the 12th Congressional District are still waiting on mail-in ballots to make one of them the winner, though a recent report showed Maloney was pulling ahead of Patel.

The June primary fell into disarray after a high number of voters reported that their absentee ballots had not arrived in time for them to mail back their ballots. The New York City Board of Elections said it sent more than 778,000 absentee ballots to voters and received more than 403,000 ballots. Reports also revealed that the Board of Elections would throw out thousands of absentee ballots due to postmarking issues, which raised alarms among voters and voting rights advocates. Some were also concerned about what these issues might mean for the presidential election in November.

A lawsuit has been filed against the state for the voter disenfranchisement that occurred on Election Day. “It is a travesty that our elected officials remain silent as thousands of voters – through no fault of their own – are disenfranchised,” Gallagher, a plaintiff in the suit, said. “We’ve always known about the inherent incumbent protection program here in New York, and the fact that it now includes such blatant voter suppression is a national disgrace.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post suggested that Zohran Mamdani was not in the lead on election day and that he won the election with more absentee ballots than Assembly Member Aravella Simotas. 

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is City & State's web reporter and social media editor.
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