A massive tabulation error in New York City’s mayoral primary this week has thrown the race into chaos, providing fresh ammunition to critics of Democratic attempts to overhaul elections.
The New York City Board of Elections on Tuesday posted a set of unofficial results from its second round of calculations in the new ranked-choice voting system. Those results raised eyebrows because it suggested Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner who placed third in the returns released on election night, significantly narrowed the healthy lead former police officer Eric Adams amassed.
But the board withdrew the results later that day, at first acknowledging a “discrepancy” between the total number of votes cast that it reported last week and the total number of votes reflected on the new returns. The board later said 135,000 sample ballots had accidentally been included in the tally and said the next round of ranked-choice voting would be rerun this week.
The hiccup set off confusion and outrage over how the election board could be seemingly so unprepared to handle vote-counting for a system it touted for months.
Ranked-choice voting, used for the first time in New York City last week, allows voters to select multiple primary candidates and list them in order of preference. If no candidate attracts 50% of first-choice rankings, and none on the Democratic side did in the primary last week, the tabulations move into successive rounds counting the second, third, fourth, and potentially even fifth choices of voters until a candidate cracks the 50% threshold.
The election board’s mistake on Tuesday opened the door for mistrust of whatever result emerges from the system, shining a spotlight on the history of incompetence at the state institution.
“It’s a huge public relations mess, a public relations nightmare,” Rob Richie, president of the nonpartisan election group FairVote, told the Washington Examiner. “It was an embarrassingly rookie mistake to not clear the cache.”
Richie said the error was completely the fault of the election board, not a reflection of the ranked-choice voting system itself. Ranked-choice voting has worked without issues in other places, Richie noted, such as in Utah.
Proponents of ranked-choice voting say it helps prevent outlier candidates in crowded fields from grabbing victories with minority support.
With the blame on the board and not on the system, more ambitious voting reforms championed by Democrats could face a new line of attack thanks to the New York debacle.
The city’s election board is structured, at least in theory, the way voting reform advocates would suggest: both parties select all 10 of the city council appointments, and the staff is hired on a bipartisan basis as well.
Still, the board has bungled a number of issues under its purview in recent years.
In the 2020 election, the board mailed nearly 100,000 defective absentee ballots to New York City voters in a mix-up that commissioners blamed on a printer problem.
In the 2018 election, ballot scanners across the city broke down, sparking lengthy delays at polling places that pushed lines outside of buildings into the rain because the equipment struggled to read the two-page ballot on offer that year.
In the 2016 election, the board removed 200,000 voters from the city’s rolls ahead of the primaries — resulting in thousands of voters showing up at their polling places and discovering they were no longer registered.
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Democratic-proposed voting reforms could create even more layers of bureaucracy and opportunities for failure by expanding requirements for voter registration, mail-in voting, and other aspects of election administration. Republicans have vehemently fought against such proposals as a power grab.
Some commentators were quick to note the New York City Board of Elections had indirectly lent credence to former President Donald Trump's unfounded election theories, in a situation involving only Democratic candidates, by demonstrating enough incompetence for the results to be thrown into question.
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Original Author: Sarah Westwood