Ritchie Torres has been officially certified as the winner of the Democratic primary in New York’s 15th Congressional District.
The openly gay New York City Councilmember has led in the vote count for the past six weeks since the June 23 New York primary, but his win was finally confirmed this week.
“As a young man who has lived most of his life in poverty, raised by a single mom and growing up in public housing, I never thought, in my wildest dreams, that I would have a fighting chance of becoming a United States Congressman in the only home I have ever known — the Bronx,” Torres said in a statement. “I dedicate this moment to my mother who has struggled and suffered and sacrificed so that I could have a better life than she did.”
Certification was delayed after New York election officials were caught unprepared for the sheer volume of absentee ballots that were sent in as New Yorkers attempted to avoid voting in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Torres led the 12-person field since the first Election Day results were reported, it was unclear how many absentee ballots were left to count for weeks.
In addition to certification delays, there were legal fights — not only in the 15th District primary, but several other races — over disputed mail-in ballots, with a number being rejected because the U.S. Postal Service failed to postmark the envelope or because the ballots were received too late, either due to voter error or inefficiencies in mail delivery, reports the Associated Press.
Additionally, some voters who attempted to vote absentee were given incomplete instructions that failed to mention that voters had to sign the envelope in a specific location on the envelope (not designated or highlighted) so it would be matched with a voter signature on file, or were told they could drop off their ballots at certain polling locations, only to find election officials who were uncertain about what to do with said ballots.
As a result, nearly 1 in 5 absentee ballots were rejected, affecting several close races, most notably the 12th Congressional District Democratic primary between U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney and challenger Suraj Patel.
Because of the uncertainty and legal fights surrounding the validity of the absentee ballots, and the sheer number of candidates in Torres’ race, election officials delayed certifying the result, along with Maloney’s win in the 12th District, for more than a month.
Torres, who is favored over his Republican, Conservative, and Working Families Party challengers in the heavily Democratic district this November, is on track to become the first openly gay Afro-Latino elected to Congress.
He will join Mondaire Jones, a progressive running who won the Democratic primary in the nearby 17th Congressional District, as one of the first two gay Black men to serve on Capitol Hill.
Torres is running to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano in one of the most Democratic districts in the country. According to final tallies from the New York City Board of Elections, Torres finished more than 8,000 ahead of Assemblyman Michael Blake, and more than 10,000 votes ahead of Ruben Diaz, Sr., a fellow Councilmember and Pentecostal minister who garnered headlines for his vehement opposition to LGBTQ rights.
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