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NEW YORK – The New York City mayoral election was thrown into disarray Tuesday night after the Board of Elections acknowledged a "discrepancy" in the calculation of ranked choice votes, showing 135,000 "test" votes had been added into the count.
The race between Brooklyn borough President Eric Adams and his rivals appeared to narrow significantly after the partial results were released Tuesday afternoon, but hours later the Board removed the tally from its website and said there were issues with it.
Approximately 135,000 additional votes, added into the Board's computer software for testing purposes, were never removed before the actual ballots were added in and those results published online.
That led to the unofficial results showing Adams narrowly surviving in 11 rounds of vote redistribution, ahead of former sanitation department head Kathryn Garcia by only some 16,000 votes.
The board said it had removed the test ballot images from its system and will upload the election results again, checking it with software from election night.
In a statement, Adams called the Board's mistake "unfortunate."
"It is critical that New Yorkers are confident in their electoral system, especially as we rank votes in a citywide election for the first time," he said.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said the "foolishness" around the results was not a result of the ranked choice system but rather the Board's "incompetency in elections."
Ranked choice voting, new to New York's mayoral primary, allows voters to select up to five candidates. Votes are redistributed in an elimination process if no candidate commands a majority of first-choice votes.
The tally released Tuesday was intended to be only a partial count of in-person ballots from Election Day and early voting. The board has received tens of thousands of absentee ballots and was to begin counting those this week. Certified results weren't expected until later in July.
A ranking of voters' first choices released June 22 on election night showed Adams in first place with a roughly 9-point lead over Wiley. Garcia trailed closely in third.
After numerous elimination rounds clearing the crowded Democratic field, Adams remained in first, but Garcia was in second and Wiley in third. Wiley's elimination boosted Garcia even closer to Adams, though the former police captain still held on with 51% of the vote.
Adams' campaign had previously raised concerns about the ranked choice voting system. When Garcia and Andrew Yang, the former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate turned mayoral hopeful, looked to campaign together days before the election, Adams' campaign allies tried to cast the alliance as voter disenfranchisement. Advocates of the system say such alliances are common.
Garcia called Tuesday's error "deeply troubling" and said a "transparent and complete explanation" was needed. Wiley said it was "not just a failure to count votes properly today, it is the result of generations of failures that have gone unaddressed."
A spokesperson for the Board of Elections did not respond to USA TODAY's request for comment.
How ranked choice voting works in New York City
If a candidate had won 50% of first-choice votes, that person would be the winner. Because that didn't happen, the ranked choice voting process kicks in.
In a series of elimination rounds, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and the votes for that candidate are redistributed based on how voters ranked their preferences. The process continues until two candidates are left, and the person with the most votes would win.
New Yorkers voted in a ballot initiative in 2019 to enact ranked choice voting for mayor and many other offices' primaries and special elections.
The system has been used in Oakland, California, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Advocates said ranked voting better captures voters' preferences and can be less costly than runoff elections.
Without ranked choice, the city would probably be awaiting a runoff election that could cost millions, said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/New York.
Exit polling from Lerner's group found that voters took advantage of the new system. More than 80% of voters ranked at least two candidates in the mayoral primary, and more than 40% ranked five candidates.
Lerner stressed the delay in reporting results is not because of ranked voting but rather state laws protecting voters' rights around when absentee ballots can be counted and "curing" ballot defects.
"Democracy takes time, and it's important that every vote counts. Accurate results are worth waiting for," she said.
Other closely watched elections using ranked choice voting included the race for city comptroller and several City Council seats.
The Republican primary featured only two candidates. Curtis Sliwa, the Guardian Angels founder, won the nomination and will face the Democratic winner in November. The winner of the Democratic primary is likely to win the general election, given the city's overwhelming majority of Democratic voters.
Eric Adams: Police reformer with public safety message
Adams' campaign focused squarely on addressing crime in the city. Though New York is not seeing as high a number of shootings as it did in the crime peaks of the 1980s and 1990s, there has been a roughly 50% uptick compared with last year.
As a former NYPD captain, Adams, 60, regularly pointed to his police experience while on the campaign trail, calling for increased police presence in high-crime neighborhoods and renewed focus on illegal firearms.
Adams has a long history advocating for police reform. He often cites his experience being beaten by New York City police when he was a teen as a motivation to join the department and change it from within.
In the 1990s, he formed 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an advocacy group that sought to fight racial profiling and police brutality while restoring trust among Black residents.
If elected, he would be the city's second Black mayor. Wiley, who is also Black, or Garcia would be the city's first woman elected mayor.
Bruce Berg, a political science professor at Fordham University who specializes in New York City politics, said Adams' moderation and balance on the issue of crime and police reform made him an appealing candidate to some voters.
The New York Times published a map of first-choice votes, showing how candidates fared in each district. Garcia won much of Manhattan, in which there is a larger share of white and wealthy voters, while Adams found much of his support among the city's Black and Latino and lower income neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Garcia largely shared a message on crime similar to Adams', while Wiley advocated for diverting some funds away from the police department and reinvesting them in homeless and mental health services.
Contributing: The Associated Press.
Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NYC mayoral race: 'Discrepancy' in results after test ballots counted