Welcome to the 13th edition of this NYC election-focused newsletter, sticking with you until we find out how this all ends! I’m independent journalist Felipe De La Hoz, and I’m writing to you after a rather confusing few days as the Board of Elections released preliminary results for the ranked-choice primary, took them back saying it had made a mistake and counted over 100,000 test ballots, then issued new preliminary results that had almost the exact same percentage split among the remaining two candidates.
Even political journalists were left scratching our heads, not to mention voters around the city, many of whom were already a bit confused by the rounds of vote-tallying that ranked-choice promised. So, we’re here to bring you some clarity, explain a little of what’s gone wrong, what’s happening now, and what we can expect going forward.
To accomplish this, I had my Epicenter colleagues send me some of their own questions, and I’ll provide my answers below.
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Felipe, WTF is happening?!
To the point! In broad strokes, the BOE has been running its own tabulations of the rounds of voting in the way we’d previously described (i.e. candidate with lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated, their votes are redistributed to the candidates those voters ranked second, and so on). It’s important to note that these tabulations are unofficial, in part because there’s a sizable chunk of absentee ballots yet to be counted at all. I’ll say that again, because it’s important: any unofficial count that has occurred so far excludes more than 120,000 absentee ballots in the Democratic primary.
On Tuesday, the BOE decided to publicly release some of these unofficial results. These revealed that, based on the votes it had available, the elimination process would leave Eric Adams and Kathryn García as the last two mayoral candidates standing. García shocked observers by surging from behind to reach about 49 percent of the final-round vote to Eric Adams’ just-over 51 percent, appearing to prove that her strategy of campaigning in part specifically to be ranked second or third paid off.
This was already confusing in that the BOE batch-eliminated several candidates in its rounds of tabulation and released these results without the inclusion of a huge percentage of votes (based on total turnout estimates, the remaining ballots will be well over 10 percent of the final count). Then things really went haywire when people started noticing that the unofficial in-person vote count was significantly higher than the in-person count reported on primary day.
After a tense period of radio silence, the BOE announced that it had mistakenly failed to remove 135,000 sample ballots that had been used in an earlier test of the software, and these had been tabulated alongside the real votes. The unofficial results were then retracted and a corrected version was released Wednesday. Despite the kerfuffle, the new results were almost identical, with the percentage of the vote going to both Adams and García completely unchanged after all the rounds of elimination.
Seriously, though, didn’t Eric Adams just cross the 51 percent mark? Why isn’t he being declared the winner?
Adams crossed the 51 percent mark in the unofficial results, but we have to remember that these results are far from final. In essence, he won about 51 percent of the vote total for still-active ballots in the preliminary total. Let’s take it step by step here: it appears that ultimately there will be just over 940,000 ballots cast in the Democratic mayoral primary, a figure we’ll call the absolute total. About 820,000 of these have been counted so far; we’ll call this the preliminary total, and it forms the basis for the unofficial counts we’ve seen so far.
Within just the preliminary total, after nine rounds of elimination, Adams ended up with 358,521 votes, and García with 343,766. Now, you may have noticed that we’re saying Adams crossed 51 percent despite the fact that 358,000 is obviously not even close to half of 820,000. This is because a total of 117,327 votes in the preliminary total are “inactive” and out of contention in the final count. What that means is that these ballots did not rank either of the two candidates left in the race, or put another way, every candidate ranked in these ballots has been eliminated. By the time we reach the final round, these votes are not counted, leaving 702,287 ballots in the active preliminary total. Adams has 51.1 percent of this active preliminary total.
What happens now is that the remaining 120,000 absentee ballots will be counted. Presuming that official results also end up coming down to Adams and García — a high statistical likelihood — then some unknown number of new inactive ballots will be added to the 117,000 already-inactive ballots, to leave us with an active absolute total. If the proportion of active-to-inactive ballots remains the same, this will end up totaling close to 810,000 votes. Whichever candidate gets the most of these votes in the final round wins.
What do we know about absentee ballots? Who are they likely to favor and what neighborhood or borough most requested them?
Absentee ballots are coming from every borough, but there are large concentrations of them in Midtown Manhattan and the Upper East and West Sides, as well as western areas of Brooklyn. Based on the in-person vote counts so far, García enjoys strong support in these areas, which certainly makes things very interesting as she’s within striking distance of overtaking Adams with a relatively small boost of votes. The New York Times had a good visualization on the absentee ballot question.
What about my City Council race? When will we know?
Even unofficial results for the Council races have yet to be released by the BOE (probably just as well that they’re not rushing it given how the up-ballot releases went), though the agency did say in a tweet that they could be released as early as late afternoon today. Another round of unofficial results now including the absentee ballots is expected July 6, though there’s a process for voters to address potential errors that may have been made in their ballots by July 9, meaning any official count will have to wait until after this process is completed. If everything goes smoothly, the results should be certified sometime in the week following this July 9 deadline. However, particularly in very tight races, there’s always the possibility that candidates will request recounts or take legal action that would prolong the election.
It’s worth also noting that the preliminary results already released do include candidates for citywide offices including the closely watched comptroller race, where Councilmember Brad Lander is leading Council speaker Corey Johnson in the final unofficial round. It’s a healthy lead of about four points, but could still in theory be upended by the absentee ballots. The Manhattan District Attorney’s race, which was not a ranked-choice election, had Alvin Bragg leading second-place candidate Tali Farhadian Weinstein by about 3 points in the unofficial results.
Is it true Maya Wiley was eliminated? Can she run on the Working Families ticket now?
Technically, no one is officially eliminated yet, and won’t be until the BOE does its official tabulations post-July 9. Even unofficially, the block of 120,000 outstanding Democratic ballots is sizable enough that it could in theory upend the race. However, it’s extremely unlikely that the remaining ballots will break so decisively in Wiley’s favor that she would overtake both García in the penultimate round and Adams in the final round, which she would have to do in order to become the Democratic nominee. The Working Families Party has a ballot line and could run her as a candidate, but it’s unlikely that Wiley would continue campaigning for the mayoralty after a defeat in the Democratic primary.
Are you surprised about Eric Adams? Why do you think the thought of him as mayor offends so many left-leaning New Yorkers? Isn’t it good to be tough on crime AND police brutality? Help us understand.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, I wouldn’t say it’s likely that García overtakes Adams, but I wouldn’t call it implausible either. Assuming that Adams does become the Democratic nominee, though, I wouldn’t call myself surprised, nor would most New York political journalists and observers. He was always going to be a very strong candidate with a longtime political trajectory, connections to power brokers, decent name recognition, and a painstakingly constructed coalition of allies among unions and community groups. I think many left-leaning people are repulsed by his statements defending versions of stop-and-frisk and the notion itself that more police officers could ever be the solution to crime.
As political writer Laura Nahmias deconstructed in an excellent article, what appears to have happened is that Adams was an early police reformer, staking out positions that were then far outside the mainstream public safety conversation. The conversation itself, however, has shifted dramatically in the intervening 30 years, whereas he’s stayed mostly consistent. So it’s not that he’s moved right, but the whole dialogue itself has moved left to the point where he’s now to the right of other elected officials and viable candidates on public safety. There are now a lot of organized political actors who believe that the notion of “tough on crime” itself is outdated and counterproductive, up to and including abolitionists who advocate for phasing out the use of prisons altogether.
What will it look like between now and November? Is this a lock for the Democrat?
Whoever wins this primary is almost guaranteed to win the general, especially given that Curtis Sliwa appears to have a lock on the Republican nomination. He is, to put it charitably, not a very serious candidate.
What we’re reading:
This newsletter was written by Felipe De La Hoz for URL Media, a network of Black and Brown news and information outlets. Our collaborative elections coverage is sponsored by a grant from the Center for Cooperative Media.