Campaigns & Elections

New NYC BOE preliminary runoff same as the old one

Kathryn Garcia with Andrew Yang on March 15.

Kathryn Garcia with Andrew Yang on March 15. Bruce Schaff/Shutterstock

On Wednesday afternoon, the New York City Board of Elections released a new, unofficial ranked-choice voting tally in the Democratic mayoral and comptroller primaries, showing the dramatic finding that… the projection is the same as the erroneous one the day before! Just as the BOE reported, and then unreported, on Tuesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is still leading in the Democratic mayoral primary, but former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia is now trailing by only 2.2 percentage points in the final round of the instant runoff simulation, shrinking Adams’ election night lead – which measured only first-choice votes – of 12 percentage points. 

Although Maya Wiley received the second-most first-place in-person votes, Garcia edges out Wiley by .1% in the second-to-last elimination round, thus making it into the final round and gaining a boost from Wiley voters who ranked Garcia above Adams. 

It’s a similar story in the Democratic comptroller primary – Brad Lander maintained his election night lead, but rival Corey Johnson is now trailing him by a slim 3.8 percentage points. These are still preliminary results, and don’t include the more than 124,000 absentee ballots that still have to be counted. In the actual instant runoff, it’s possible that the results could differ significantly. 

The release of these preliminary, unofficial results follows the Board of Elections posting erroneous counts on Tuesday and deleting them hours later – a blunder that threatens to undermine public confidence in the city’s new ranked-choice voting system. These results showed Garcia trailing Adams by 2.2 percentage points in the mayoral primary, and Johnson trailing Lander by 3.4 percentage points in the comptroller primary. In each race, the runner-up had significantly narrowed the gap separating them from the frontrunner. The tally posted Wednesday showed very similar results, with both Adams and Lander leading in their respective races by just a few percentage points.

Adams’ mayoral campaign was among the first to raise doubts about the initial tally posted Tuesday, noting that it showed a significantly higher number of votes cast in the primary than was reported on election night. The Board of Elections acknowledged the discrepancy, and in a statement on Tuesday night said that it was due to roughly 135,000 fake test ballots being accidentally included in the ranked-choice voting tally. The error, the board has said, was not due to the software used to tabulate ranked-choice votes. “There was a human error where a staffer did not remove the test ballot images from the Election Management System,” BOE spokesperson Valerie Vazquez-Diaz said in a statement to The New York Times. Hours after releasing an unofficial count that suggested both the mayoral and comptroller races would be nail biters, the board pulled those figures from its website. 

The board said Tuesday night that it would re-do the ranked-choice voting tabulation, having removed the 135,000 test ballots from its system. The still-unofficial tally released Wednesday is apparently the product of that process. “Let us be clear: RCV was not the problem, rather a human error that could have been avoided,” the BOE said in a statement along with the new results on Wednesday. “We have implemented another layer of review and quality control before publishing information going forward. 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.”

But the blunder has nonetheless worsened distrust in the Board of Elections – a body already beset by years of mismanagement and election-administration fiascos. “Nary an election passes without another reminder of how much contempt the agency has for the city’s vast, diverse electorate,” the Times editorial board wrote of the BOE on Wednesday. Prior to the release of new figures on Wednesday, Adams filed a lawsuit in the Kings County Supreme Court to reserve the right to have a judge oversee and review ballots in his race. 

Voting experts raised concerns about the mistakes by the BOE undermining public trust in the final outcome of the race. Former President Donald Trump, who baselessly alleged fraud in the certified outcome of last fall’s presidential election, released a statement Wednesday comparing the city’s current situation to “vast irregularities and mistakes” that he continues to falsely claim were made in the 2020 presidential election. Adams quickly shot down Trump’s claim in a tweet. “Yesterday, the results released by the BOE had discrepancies which are being addressed. There were NO similar issues in November. Neither of these elections were a hoax or a scam,” Adams wrote.

The release of updated preliminary results on Wednesday was limited to citywide races. It’s unclear when City Council or borough president primary preliminary ranked choice results will be released. 

While the results released Wednesday show a somewhat more complete picture of the city’s most high-profile primaries, they are still incomplete. Official results aren’t expected until the week of July 12, when more than 124,000 absentee ballots have been counted and incorporated into the ranked-choice voting tabulations.