Josefa Velasquez and Samantha Maldonado, THE CITY
This article was originally published
by THE CITY
A day after the Board of Elections bungled its initial ranked choice voting tabulations, new numbers showed Eric Adams leading Kathryn Garcia by about 15,000 votes. But 125,000 uncounted absentee ballots could make the difference — and even keep Maya Wiley in the game.
Eric Adams’ lead in the crowded mayoral race narrowed Wednesday as an unofficial tabulation of in-person votes cast put Kathryn Garcia within 15,000 votes — with some 125,000 absentee ballots yet to be counted.
And in the penultimate ranked-choice round, civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley was only 347 votes behind Garcia as both vie to become the first woman elected mayor of New York City.
The afternoon release of the newly crunched numbers mirror previous tabulations that were finished Tuesday by the city’s Board of Election but were retracted after it was revealed that tens of thousands of dummy votes were inadvertently counted.
The snafu threw off the calculations and undermined the city’s first major go at the new ranked choice voting system.
Still to come is a full Board of Elections tally that includes the absentee votes that will be critical in determining the Democratic mayoral nominee — a process that could extend into mid-July.
Even before the BOE released the latest, incomplete tallies Wednesday, the lawsuits were already flying. Both Adams and Garcia filed pre-emptive lawsuits asking that the courts oversee the ballot count going forward.
‘A National Embarrassment’
Chris Hughes, policy director for the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, which supplied the tabulator software to run the count, told THE CITY he’d reached out the BOE repeatedly to offer support without hearing back.
“We wanted to be involved because we knew it was a high-stakes election,” Hughes said. “We had offered to run a parallel counting process as well where we could run the same count ourselves using the same data they were relying on. We’d get the same results in theory, but we’d have more eyes on it to be able to raise the alarm before the results went out the door.”
The fiasco added fuel to the ranked choice voting dissenters — including Adams — who for months have been warning that the city isn’t prepared to tackle an overhaul on how New Yorkers fill seats from City Council to City Hall.
But complaints about the BOE are perennial and tend to vanish from the consciousness of lawmakers and the public as soon as elections are over. Yet still, state and city elected officials are saying this time is different as they commit to reforming the patronage-heavy board.
“The situation in New York City is a national embarrassment and must be dealt with promptly and properly,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester), who promised to hold hearings in the coming weeks.
An Early Adams Lead
Ranked choice voting allowed New Yorkers to pick up to five candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives the majority of the vote, instant run-offs take place in which the candidates with the least votes are eliminated and their votes then go to their supporters’ subsequent choices, until two candidates remain and one accumulates at least 50% of votes.
Adams emerged as the early leader in the Democratic primary on June 22, securing the most first-place rankings of any contender — nearly 32%, versus 22% for Wiley and 19% for Garcia — based on early in-person votes and those cast on Primary Day.
Roughly one-third of in-person Democratic primary voters ranked the former cop and state senator as their top choice, but he didn’t get the more than 50% of first-place votes needed to avoid a run-off under the new voting system.
On Wednesday, the candidates pinned their hopes of winning to the large number of absentee ballots that have yet to be counted — a product of pandemic-spurred rules that expanded eligibility for mail-in votes.
“There are still absentee ballots to be counted that we believe favor Eric — and we are confident we will be the final choice of New Yorkers when every vote is tallied,” Adams’ campaign said in a statement.
Garcia and Wiley weren’t counting themselves out yet, either.
In a statement, Garcia said her campaign is “taking nothing for granted” and urged patience as the BOE continues its counting process.
“This election is still wide open,” Wiley said in a statement. “That’s why following yesterday’s embarrassing debacle, the Board of Elections must count every vote in an open way so that New Yorkers can have confidence that their votes are being counted accurately.”
Races Across the City
The 13-candidate race for mayor isn’t the only one in play: New Yorkers ranked candidates in races for comptroller, public advocate and borough presidents — plus for 35 open City Council seats throughout the boroughs.
While certain races have been called, such as for Jumaane Williams, who received 70% of initial first-place votes in the public advocate race, others remain in states of indecision.
That included the city comptrollers’ race, in which Brooklyn City Councilmember Brad Lander maintained a slim lead over Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), 51.9% to 48.1% of the votes after 10 rounds — a difference of just over 21,000 votes.
Once absentee ballots are in, the Board of Elections will redo the ranked-choice count. When the BOE re-runs the rankings using the full vote count, the number of votes each candidate picks up from rivals will shift as the lowest vote-getters get knocked out during elimination rounds.
Final results could be a while away. On July 6, the BOE will run another tabulation that includes some, but not all, of absentee ballots.
Any absentee ballots that have minor errors — such as unsigned envelopes — will be returned to voters, who will be offered the opportunity to “cure” the mistake. Those ballots must be returned to the BOE by July 9 in order to count.
That means official, complete results that include every ballot cast won’t be available until the week of July 12 at the earliest.
If Garcia or Wiley clinches the nomination, either would likely make history given the overwhelming Democratic majority. Adams or Wiley would become New York’s second Black mayor, after David Dinkins, who won the 1989 election.
The Democratic victor will face the Republican nominee, Guardian Angels founder and media personality Curtis Sliwa, who notched enough in-person ballots to win outright over GOP rival Fernando Mateo, a longtime advocate for bodega owners and livery drivers.
Trump Weighs In
Nearly four months will separate the primary results from the November general election, giving politicians a window to work to reform the BOE.
State Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) who chairs the elections committee, said he plans to hold a hearing this year to discuss how to fix the board. Stewart-Cousins said legislative action would follow hearings.
State Assemblymember Nily Rozic (D-Queens) encouraged constituents to urge their legislators to support a bill she and Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) are sponsoring that would professionalize the patronage-ridden board.
“Time after time, election after election, the New York City Board of Elections has continued to show us its ineptitude,” Rozic said. “From long lines one year to broken equipment the next to accidentally counting thousands of practice ballots this year — these mistakes are so common that they have come to be expected.”
In a statement Wednesday, de Blasio also pushed for the passage of Rozic’s bill or an amendment to the state constitution that would change the BOE’s governance structure.
In the meantime, de Blasio said, “There must be an immediate, complete recanvass of the BOE’s vote count and a clear explanation of what went wrong.”
The BOE’s massive misstep also got the attention from Republicans nationally — including former President Donald Trump who said in a statement that the city should start the process anew.
“Watch the mess you are about to see in New York City, it will go on forever. They should close the books and do it all over again, the old-fashioned way, when we had results that were accurate and meaningful,” Trump, a Queens native, said.
The City Council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus caucus, whose two top members led a charge last year to delay ranked-choice voting, said in a statement Tuesday that it plans to hold a hearing to “scrutinize the city’s performance.”
The Council members, many of whom are Adams’ surrogates on the campaign trail, also urged lawmakers to “give serious consideration” to a proposal to repeal sections of ranked-choice voting.
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
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