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Revised Vote Count Shows Adams Ahead in NYC Mayoral Primary

July 1, 2021by Karen Matthews, Associated Press
Frederic Umane, President of the New York City Board of Elections, addresses poll workers at Frank McCourt High School, Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Revised vote counts in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary show Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams maintaining a thin lead, a day after a first attempt to report the results of a ranked choice voting analysis went disastrously wrong.

The mayor’s race, part the first city election to use ranked choice voting, was thrown into disarray Tuesday after the city’s Board of Elections posted incorrect preliminary vote counts and then withdrew them hours later.

Corrected numbers released Wednesday showed Adams, a former police captain and state senator, leading former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia by 14,755 votes. Civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley was practically tied with Garcia, falling just 347 votes behind in the ranked choice analysis. It essentially allows some candidates to pick up votes from voters whose first choices get eliminated for lack of support.

The corrected results still don’t paint a complete picture of the race. Nearly 125,000 absentee ballots have yet to be counted.

Adams’ thin lead means it is possible for Garcia or Wiley to catch up when absentee ballots are added to the mix starting on July 6. Final results in the primary could be weeks away.

Adams’ advantage narrowed substantially from an election-night count that involved only voters’ first choices. Still, his campaign called the lead “significant.”

“We are confident we will be the final choice of New Yorkers when every vote is tallied,” the campaign added.

Garcia said she, too, remained “confident in our path to victory” but wasn’t taking it for granted. Wiley, meanwhile, called the race “still wide open.” 

“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,” she tweeted. 

The Board of Elections apologized for Tuesday’s mistake, which involved the accidental inclusion of 135,000 test ballot images in the vote totals. The board insisted the new counts were accurate and said it was now doing more checks and reviews before releasing more data.

“We will do so with a heightened sense that we must regain the trust of New Yorkers,” board President Frederic Umane and Secretary Miguelina Camilo said in a statement. 

Still, critics said the mishap proved that the board was not equipped to handle the new ranked choice system.

“Yet again, the fundamental structural flaws of the Board of Elections are on display,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Wednesday.

De Blasio called for “a complete structural rebuild” of the board, which operates independently of his office.

“I once offered the BOE over $20 million to reform themselves,” de Blasio said. “They refused, leaving legislative action as the next available recourse.”

The City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus — whose leaders favor putting a repeal of ranked choice voting on the November ballot — said in a statement: “Our members warned the public for months that the city was ill-prepared to execute elections under the new ranked-choice voting system, and the concerns they raised continue to be borne out by the facts.” 

Board of Elections officials said they would release new ranked choice results Wednesday for in-person voting in the June 22 primary.

The results released Tuesday afternoon and then withdrawn appeared to show Garcia narrowly trailing Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in the race to succeed the term-limited de Blasio, with Wiley in third place.

Adams’ campaign, which had pointed out the vote discrepancy after the faulty count was released, said Tuesday that the former police captain remained confident he would win.

But Adams filed a a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to preserve the ballots and voting machines to ensure an accurate count. “Today we petitioned the court to preserve our right to a fair election process and to have a judge oversee and review ballots, if necessary,” Adams said in a statement.

The lawsuit filed in state court in Brooklyn named the Board of Elections and the other Democratic mayoral candidates as defendants. 

A Board of Elections spokesperson said she could not comment on pending litigation.

A Garcia spokesperson said the Garcia campaign would pursue the necessary legal steps to ensure that ranked choice votes “are fully and accurately counted.” A Wiley spokesperson said the candidate had no immediate comment.

Lawsuits seeking court oversight of election tallies are not uncommon, especially in close races.

New York City adopted ranked choice voting for primaries and special elections in a 2019 referendum and used the system in citywide races for the first time in the June 22 primary.

Under the system, voters could rank up to five candidates in order of preference.

Since no candidate was the first choice of more than 50% of voters, a computer on Tuesday tabulated ballots in a series of rounds that worked like instant run-offs.

In each round, the candidate in last place is eliminated. Votes cast for that person are then redistributed to the surviving candidates, based on whoever voters put next on their ranking list. That process repeats until only two candidates are left. 

Versions of the ranked choice system have been used in U.S. cities including San Francisco and Minneapolis for years and in statewide races in Maine.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, which promoted adoption of the ranked choice system, noted in a statement that Tuesday’s discrepancy was due to human error, not a defect inherent in ranked choice voting itself. 

“We are not at all happy that it happened, but it was a mistake that the BOE is moving to correct,” Lerner said.

Rob Richie, the president and CEO of FairVote, a nonprofit that advocates for ranked choice voting, said he did not believe Tuesday’s Board of Elections error would have a lasting impact on New Yorkers’ faith in the ranked choice system.

“This certainly, fundamentally, is not anything about ranked choice voting, and it certainly is about the historic challenges that the Board of Elections has faced,” Richie said.

The winner of New York City’s mayoral primary will be the prohibitive favorite in the general election against Curtis Sliwa, the Republican founder of the Guardian Angels.

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