Ranked-choice voting was used for the first time in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary last week — and not without the fireworks we’ve come to expect from elections.
Although official results will not be known until July, initial results reported by The New York Times the morning after the primary showed Eric Adams, a former New York Police Department captain, in the lead with 31.7 percent of the vote.
In second place was civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, who received 22.3 percent. Former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia finished third, with 19.5 percent.
When interim results were released on Tuesday night, one week after the vote, Adams’ lead had fallen to 16,000 votes and Garcia had moved into second place, according to USA Today. This was really quite stunning considering that Adams and Garcia had been apart by 97,422 votes.
Adams immediately released a statement calling the new results into question.
“The vote total just released by the Board of Elections is 100,000-plus more than the total announced on election night, raising serious questions. We have asked the Board of Elections to explain such a massive increase and other irregularities before we comment on the Ranked Choice Voting projection,” the statement said.
Eric Adams’ statement, which goes there pic.twitter.com/xhYORu3Mqy
— Dana Rubinstein (@danarubinstein) June 29, 2021
Following an uproar, the Board of Elections said it was retracting the updated results because 135,000 “test ballots” had been erroneously included in the data.
We are aware there is a discrepancy in the unofficial RCV round by round elimination report. We are working with our RCV technical staff to identify where the discrepancy occurred. We ask the public, elected officials and candidates to have patience.
— NYC Board of Elections (@BOENYC) June 29, 2021
OK, so how does ranked-choice voting work? NBC News’ Jane Timm explains the process in the video below.
In the case of the New York Democratic mayoral primary, there were thirteen candidates. Voters were allowed to rank their top five preferences.
If any candidate had received 50 percent or more first-choice, in-person votes, he or she would have automatically won.
Since that did not happen, Timm explains, “they eliminate the lowest scoring candidate, and then have those ballots go for those voters’ second-choice candidate.”
So, for example, candidate Isaac Wright finished in last place with 1,913 first-choice votes. He would then be eliminated and his votes redistributed to his voters’ second choice.
That would be the first round. According to NBC News, the process then repeats until there are only two candidates remaining. At that point, the candidate with the most votes wins.
Timm pointed out that Adams could lose his fairly comfortable lead “if he’s alienated all of his rivals’ supporters.” But for Wiley and Garcia, she said, “it’s hard to overcome a ten percent lead, even in ranked-choice voting.”
Timm also noted that because of uncounted absentee ballots, the winner will not be declared until the week of July 12.
According to FairVote, ranked-choice voting was used by 22 jurisdictions in their last election, and 53 jurisdictions are projected to use it in either their next election or the one after.
The jury is still out on whether this is a good idea or not.
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