New York’s Sloppy Vote Counting
The combination of incompetence and a new system have the mayoral race in turmoil.
Eight days ago, New York City held its Democratic primary for mayor and other city officers. Not only will we not know who won for weeks, but they’ve also accidentally counted “test ballots” and had to take 135,000 votes away.
AP (“Error mars vote count in NYC mayoral primary“):
The Democratic primary for mayor of New York City was thrown into a state of confusion Tuesday when election officials retracted their latest report on the vote count after realizing it had been corrupted by test data never cleared from a computer system.
The bungle was a black mark on New York City’s first major foray into ranked choice voting and seemed to confirm worries that the city’s Board of Elections, which is jointly run by Democrats and Republicans, was unprepared to implement the new system.
The disarray began as evening fell, when the board abruptly withdrew data it had released earlier in the day purporting to be a first round of results from the ranked choice system.
That data had indicated that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former police captain who would be the city’s second Black mayor, had lost much of his lead and was ahead of former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia by fewer than 16,000 votes.
Then the Board of Elections tweeted that it was aware of “a discrepancy” in its report on ranked choice voting results. It didn’t initially explain what that discrepancy was, even as it pulled the data from its website.
Just before 10:30 p.m. it released a statement saying that 135,000 ballot images it had put into its computer system for testing purposes had never been cleared.
“The Board apologizes for the error and has taken immediate measures to ensure the most accurate up to date results are reported,” it said in a statement.
The results initially released Tuesday, and then withdrawn, were incomplete to begin with because they didn’t include any of the nearly 125,000 absentee ballots cast in the Democratic primary.
NYT (“New York Mayor’s Race in Chaos After Elections Board Counts 135,000 Test Ballots“) adds:
The New York City mayor’s race plunged into chaos on Tuesday night when the city Board of Elections released a new tally of votes in the Democratic mayoral primary, and then removed the tabulations from its website after citing a “discrepancy.”
The extraordinary sequence of events seeded further confusion about the outcome, and threw the closely watched contest into a new period of uncertainty at a consequential moment for the city.
For the Board of Elections, which has long been plagued by dysfunction and nepotism, this was its first try at implementing ranked-choice voting on a citywide scale. Skeptics had expressed doubts about the board’s ability to pull off the process, though it is used successfully in other cities.
Under ranked-choice voting, voters can list up to five candidates on their ballots in preferential order. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of first-choice votes in the first round, the winner is decided by a process of elimination: As the lower-polling candidates are eliminated, their votes are reallocated to whichever candidate those voters ranked next, and the process continues until there is a winner.
The results may well be scrambled again: Even after the Board of Elections sorts through the preliminary tally, it must count around 124,000 Democratic absentee ballots. Once they are tabulated, the board will take the new total that includes them and run a new set of ranked-choice elimination rounds, with a final result not expected until mid-July.
The drive to make voting easier, which I support, has had the pernicious effect of making it less trustworthy.
Eric Adams seemingly won a plurality of the vote on Election Day. But, of course, Election Day no longer exists. Some people vote early. And a lot of people, effectively, vote late because they can send their absentee ballot in on the last day and we allot an inordinate amount of time for ballots to arrive.
We used to get election results almost immediately. It was rare that we went to bed on Election Day without knowing the outcome of the race. Now, we’re expected to wait days—in this case, an entire month!—for results. Yet, over the same evolution, we have become to getting our information instantaneously.
Even absent malfeasance such as the Republican Party leadership’s attempt to falsely claim the 2020 Presidential election was somehow stolen, partisans are not going to trust a system in which their guy seemingly has the lead and then watch it slowly disappear through a mysterious process in which new votes are found and old ones are thrown out because errors are discovered.
Incompetent administration—as seen here an in the most recent run of the Iowa Caucuses—certainly don’t help. It just feeds the conspiracy theorists.
And the addition of ranked choice voting to this particular contest—which, again, I support in theory—complicates matters further. While there’s no obvious reason why a computer program can’t eliminate the votes for the bottom candidate and reallocate second place votes and so on and so forth, this particular election board somehow didn’t get its act together ahead of time. And, again, it’s feeding the conspiracists.
Some Democrats, bracing for an acrimonious new chapter in the race, are concerned that the incremental release of results by the Board of Elections — and the discovery of an error — may stir distrust of ranked-choice voting and of the city’s electoral system more broadly.
In a statement late Tuesday night, Ms. Wiley laced into the Board of Elections, calling the error “the result of generations of failures that have gone unaddressed,” and adding: “Sadly it is impossible to be surprised.”
“Today, we have once again seen the mismanagement that has resulted in a lack of confidence in results, not because there is a flaw in our election laws, but because those who implement it have failed too many times,” she said. “The B.O.E. must now count the remainder of the votes transparently and ensure the integrity of the process moving forward.” Ms. Garcia said the release of the inaccurate tally was “deeply troubling and requires a much more transparent and complete explanation.” “Every ranked choice and absentee vote must be counted accurately so that all New Yorkers have faith in our democracy and our government,” she said. “I am confident that every candidate will accept the final results and support whomever the voters have elected.”
Indeed, the conspiracy theories starting flying even before the votes were cast:
Some of Mr. Adams’s supporters have already cast the ranked-choice process as an attempt to disenfranchise voters of color, an argument that intensified among some backers on Tuesday afternoon as the race had appeared to tighten, and is virtually certain to escalate should he lose his primary night lead to Ms. Garcia, who is white.
Surrogates for Mr. Adams have suggested without evidence that an apparent ranked-choice alliance between Ms. Garcia and another rival, Andrew Yang, could amount to an attempt to suppress the votes of Black and Latino New Yorkers; Mr. Adams himself claimed that the alliance was aimed at preventing a Black or Latino candidate from winning the race. In the final days of the race, Ms. Garcia and Mr. Yang campaigned together across the city, especially in neighborhoods that are home to sizable Asian American communities, and appeared together on campaign literature.
To advocates of ranked-choice voting, the round-by-round shuffling of outcomes is part of the process of electing a candidate with broad appeal. But if Ms. Garcia or Ms. Wiley were to prevail, the process — which was approved by voters in a 2019 ballot measure — would likely attract fresh scrutiny, with some of Mr. Adams’s backers and others already urging a new referendum on it.