The New York City Board of Elections is counting ballots Thursday in a move that could seal -- or imperil -- veteran U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel's apparent win in the Democratic primary.

The board is conducting the slow and tedious process of counting about 2,000 absentee and affidavit ballots as Rangel is trying to hold on to his chance for a 22nd term.

The 13th Congressional District race appeared decided last week on election night, with Rangel seemingly holding a sizable lead. But the vote margin shrank, leading some to wonder if state Sen. Adriano Espaillat conceded too soon.

Redistricting transformed the district into a majority-Hispanic one.

A tally released by the Board of Elections last weekend showed Rangel led by 802 votes. There could be a full manual recount if the final difference is less than one-half of 1 percent of all votes cast.

More than a dozen members of each candidate's camp monitored the counting as it began at a Lower Manhattan office.

In the crowded room, there were two tables for counting -- one each for 68th and 69th Assembly Districts, which are in the 13th Congressional District.

The vote also included GOP ballots from the U.S. Senate primary, a far smaller number because the district is heavily Democratic.

At each table there was a team of four elections board employees, two Democrats and two Republicans. They were counting the ballots which have already had been validated by the elections board.

Also at each table was one observer for the Espaillat campaign, one watcher for Rangel, and one lawyer for Rangel. Both campaigns were allowed lawyers and observers, but Espaillat only sent observers.

The ballots were being counted until 6 p.m. Thursday.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the two candidates are arguing in state supreme court over what the challenger calls voter irregularities.

Espaillat's lawyer says he wants to maintain the option of reviewing any irregularities and says there were many instances where voters were turned away.

A lawyer for the board of elections says that claim is gross overreaching.

And Rangels' lawyer says Espaillat is trying to drag the process out to score political points.

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