NYC Mayor’s Race Up to Absentee Voters as Adams’s Lead Narrows

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams saw his lead narrow in a corrected tally for New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary Wednesday, a day after the botched release of erroneous ranked-choice voting results plunged the count into chaos.

Still, Wednesday’s revised count revealed a dynamic strikingly similar to the bogus results of the previous day: Anti-Adams voters rallied around city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia in their top five preferences, leaving the likely future of Gracie Mansion in the hands of 125,570 Democratic absentee voters whose ballots won’t be counted until next week.

Adams now leads Garcia 51.1% to 48.9% after the other 11 candidates were knocked out round-by-round and their votes transferred to the remaining candidates in the ranked-choice voting tabulation.

Garcia edged out lawyer and activist Maya Wiley, the favorite of many progressives, by just 347 votes in the next-to-last round. That means Wiley could yet emerge as the more viable alternative to Adams, a retired police captain whose tough-on-crime platform included a return to stop-and-frisk policies.

The results were so similar to Tuesday’s that the Board of Elections put out a statement insisting that the new numbers were, indeed, correct.

“We have implemented another layer of review and quality control before publishing information going forward,” said board Chairman Frederic Umane. “We can say with certainty that the election night vote counts were and are accurate and the RCV data put out today is correct as well.”

The new results demonstrate that ranked-choice voting, approved by 74% of New York voters in a 2019 charter amendment, has ushered in a new set of political realities in the nation’s largest city.

In any other election, Adams’ 9-point lead over the rest of the field in Election Day voting would have all but assured him of victory. Counting only first-choice votes, Adams leads Wiley by 78,865 votes and Garcia by 102,234.

But the new system allows votes for lower-finishing candidates to be transferred to other candidates according to voter preferences, requiring candidates to put together a winning coalition outside their immediate base of support.

That dynamic helped Garcia, who formed an alliance with former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang in the final days of the campaign. Yang appeared with Garcia and asked his supporters to list her as a second-choice on their ballots.

Yang Effect

Once fourth-place Yang was eliminated, third-place Garcia catapulted to second, getting three times as many Yang supporters as Wiley did.

Wiley’s elimination helped Garcia even more. Garcia received 116,844 of Wiley’s votes compared with 44,327 for Adams.

“Adams could have been less defensive and more optimistic” in responding to the Garcia-Yang pact and worked harder to get more of their second-choice support, said Rob Richie of FairVote, which advocates for ranked-choice voting nationwide.

“What’s revealing to me is that there wasn’t a clear alliance, in terms of ideology or in campaign style, between Garcia and Wiley,” Richie said. Yet when Wiley was eliminated, her votes went much more to Garcia than to Adams, indicating Garcia was “more acceptable to Wiley’s progressive base,” he said.

The close race prolongs the drama until at least July 6, when the Board of Elections will release the next batch of results including absentee ballots.

If those ballots aren’t decisive, late-counted absentees could push a result as late as July 12. Whoever emerges as the victor will face the Republican nominee, Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels crime-prevention group and a longtime radio personality.

The race for city comptroller also hangs in the balance. City Councilman Brad Lander leads City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, 52% to 48%, after rankings were tabulated in a 10-candidate race, with absentee ballots still uncounted. Election officials said they would release ranked-choice votes for borough president and City Council on Thursday.

Wednesday’s results came when election officials had to re-run the ranked-choice tally after mistakenly including 135,000 test ballots alongside 800,000 legitimate Election Day and early votes in Tuesday’s release.

That blunder has put a spotlight on the Board of Elections, which retracted Tuesday’s results from its website without explanation before acknowledging the results had included test ballots.

‘Very Bad Error’

“Obviously this was a very bad error that was made and it should have been detected,” Umane, a Manhattan Republican, said in an interview on Wednesday. “It wasn’t a few votes, it was 135,000. Someone should have noticed that. It was a careless error that should not have occurred.”

The faulty results had little bearing on the final winner of the race, but the fiasco called into question the Board of Elections’ ability to determine a winner using the new ranked-choice voting system.

Ranked-choice voting allows primary voters to select five candidates in order of preference and have their backup choices count if their top picks are eliminated. It’s the first time the city is using the system in a mayoral race, after special council elections that had to be counted by hand because the state didn’t approve new tabulation software until last month.

Outgoing mayor Bill de Blasio -- as well as Adams, Garcia and Wiley -- called on the elections board to issue a full, public explanation as to how the mistakes were made.

New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the state Senate would hold hearings on the issue in the coming weeks and will seek to pass reform legislation. “The situation in New York City is a national embarrassment and must be dealt with promptly and properly,” she said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie stopped short of calling for reforms but said it was monitoring the “extremely concerning” situation.

Adams and Garcia filed petitions with the New York State Supreme Court seeking its supervision of the Board of Election’s vote-counting process. Garcia asked the court to review all decisions of the board, and the Adams campaign said it asked the court to have a judge oversee and review ballots.

Wiley hasn’t filed suit yet but said in a statement after the results were posted that the election “is still wide open.” Garcia’s team called the race “a dead heat.”

The Adams campaign said in a statement that it would wait for the absentee ballots but that it was “confident we will be the final choice of New Yorkers when every vote is tallied.”

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