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Rank Choice Voting: Chaos Erupts in NYC as Election Results Remain Uncertain

New York City Election

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While polls closed a week ago in the race for the Democratic nomination to NYC mayor, the city is still waiting for a definitive result on who will be (with almost total certainty) the next mayor of one of the most important cities in the world. After a week of vote-counting, the NYC election is too close to call.

Although Brooklyn borough president and former police officer Eric Adams surged as the leading candidate soon after the polls closed on election day, the results are far from clear, as the New York City Board of Elections has yet to release an official count of the final election results. The first-choice results (more on that later) of last week showed Eric Adams with a 9 point advantage over his closest rival Maya Wiley.

The Board has released an unofficial vote count (which it later retracted) where it details the many rank choice rounds in the election. In this quick count, Adams would beat Kathryn Garcia in the 11th round by a margin of about 16,000 votes.

However, in a bizarre and frankly appalling twist, the NYC Board of Elections confirmed that it had mistakenly added 135,000 (you read that right) votes in their first unofficial count due to them erroneously adding testing ballots to the actual vote tally.

NYC Election thrown into chaos and uncertainty

However, there are three wild cards that can turn this already weird and crowded race into utter chaos: absentee ballots, the ranked-choice voting system, and New York’s historical incompetence in election administration.

The first factor is the most obvious, the introduction of a novel system of voting in this year’s election. Instead of having a traditional primary election, where the candidate with the most votes wins, New York decided to spice things up and opted for implementing the ranked-choice voting system, where voters rank their top choices for mayor in order (from the most preferable to the least preferable). After the totality of first-choice votes is tallied, then the candidate with the least votes gets eliminated and his or her votes get distributed to other candidates according to their preferences.

Former police officer Eric Adams has a slim advantage over his closes rival (EFE)

This process will continue to go on until either one candidate garners 50%+ of the vote or there are only two candidates left. The intention of this type of voting system is to avoid the growth of tactical voting when a voter decides not to “waste” the vote by supporting a candidate with little chance of winning, and promote a more diverse and varied field.

However, this system has to lead to some confusion regarding who is actually winning the election and how should candidates be eliminated. For example, while in the (now retracted) unofficial count Adams wins 10/11 rounds with relative ease, he only manages to get a very slim majority in the final round, something that the Adams campaign had already warned it could happen.

katrhyn garcia-nyc-elections
New York City mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia appears to be close behind Adams (EFE)

The ranked-choice system also led to a very bizarre piece of political theatre only days before the election, when former frontrunner (and the biggest political loser of the election) Andrew Yang campaigned with his rival Kathreen Garcia, as both candidates urged their supporters to rank the other one as their second choice.

The dilemma gets it even more muddled when you take into account that there are still over 124,000 absentee ballots to be counted, which might prove to be a decisive factor in the elections as the alleged difference between both top candidates is extremely slim.

This has lead to some to ask how and when to start eliminating candidates, as the city has yet to count a substantial amount of absentee ballots, but the city’s board has already started to tabulate the subsequent rounds of voting while not counting the totality of the first-choice votes.

The intention behind the ranked voting system might be noble. However, when you have a candidate who goes from leading comfortably to being on the brink of defeat in just one round and when you have two rival candidates campaigning together, then it is reasonable to ask if such a system is more hassle than what it is worth.

New York has a history of disastrous election management

To make matters worst, New York has an ignominious history of mismanaging elections and taking forever to count their votes. In 2020, the Empire State was one of the last ones in the Union to finish its vote tally, its 2018 election was also widely characterized as a disaster, and it was found hat the Elections Board couldn’t keep track of the number of tablets it uses at election days.

The final straw of this already chaotic election was the chaotic way the NYC board handled the release of the first unofficial reports. At first, they published the unofficial count at 3:29 pm on June 29th, then they admitted the returns had a “discrepancy” at 6:20 pm (after Adams said there were some irregularities in the tally), and finally, at 10:34 pm they admitted that they had somehow included more than 100,000 fictitious votes in the unofficial count released earlier that day.

The combination of a crowded field, an innovative (but overly complicated) electoral system, and a historically incompetent board of elections has -unsurprisingly- led to a prolonged and nerve-racking vote tally in the Big Apple, a situation that will leave fertile ground for disgruntled candidates to cast doubts on the election results.

Thousands of votes are yet to be counted, a week after the election finished (Flickr)

Public trust towards the electoral system has suffered substantially after former President Trump refused to recognize his defeat in 2020 and called the election a fraudulent one. Although the courts responsibly decided to throw out almost all allegations, the damage is already done and a third of the electorate thinks Biden won due to fraud.

At a time where we need competent and transparent election officers who are capable to debunk the theories aimed at undermining the trust in the American electoral system, the New York Democratic Primary is a showcase of what not to do.

Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.

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