29 June 2021

New York Mayor Primary Election and Ranked Choice Voting

With the counting of the in-person votes being more or less finished (this is the famously corrupt and incompetent New York City Board of Elections, after all), what looked like a run-away victory has turned into a nail biter.

Just to remind you, the voting was that you could rate candidates from 1 to 5, and the votes were tabulated based on the first choice initially, giving Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams 31.6%,  former de Blazio counsel Maya Wiley with 22.3%,  former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, with 19.7%, and smug asshole Andrew Yang with a dismal 11.7%.

With a normal US style election, what the British call, "First Past the Post," Adams would be the next mayor of New York.

This was not a normal US style election though, it was ranked choice voting, which is also called instant runoff voting (IRV), though it's not exactly instant, as we can see from the delay of a bit over a week.

Additionally, the top two finishers were originally numbers 1 and 3 in the first vote.

With IRV,  if no one gets a majority on the first vote, then the person with the lowest total votes in the first round has their votes struck from the tally, and those voters second choice is counted instead.

If no one still has 50%+1 of the votes, the procedure is repeated until someone does have an absolute majority.

In this case, Katheryn Garcia overtook Maya Wiley, and it appears that she is pretty close to Eric Adams, something on the order of 2-3%, with thousands of absentee ballots not yet counted. 

Then those numbers were withdrawn, because they mistakenly included test data, but it is clear that the top 2 at the end of the process will be Adams and Garcia, and that it will be close.

Given that Eric Adams is Black, these results illustrate interesting point about instant RUNOFF voting, which is an artifact of most (if not all) runoff voting systems in the United States, which is that runoff votes allow white voters to get behind the proverbial "White Guy", which is why it has been a fixture of voting in the South for years.

Without getting into the weeds of the relative merits of first past the post versus instant runoff voting versus proportional representation, I think that it is clear that any runoff system, whether instant or traditional, will make it more difficult for a minority candidate to win.

It's troubling, and so I have mixed emotions about the whole process:

The New York City mayor’s race plunged into chaos on Tuesday night when the city Board of Elections released a new tally of votes in the Democratic mayoral primary, and then removed the tabulations from its website after citing a “discrepancy.”

The results released earlier in the day had suggested that the race between Eric Adams and his two closest rivals had tightened significantly.

But just a few hours after releasing the preliminary results, the elections board issued a cryptic tweet revealing a “discrepancy” in the report, saying that it was working with its “technical staff to identify where the discrepancy occurred.”

By Tuesday evening, the tabulations had been taken down, replaced by a new advisory that the ranked-choice results would be available “starting on June 30.”

Then, around 10:30 p.m., the board finally released a statement, explaining that it had failed to remove sample ballot images used to test its ranked-choice voting software. When the board ran the program, it counted “both test and election night results, producing approximately 135,000 additional records,” the statement said. The ranked-choice numbers, it said, would be tabulated again.


For the Board of Elections, which has long been plagued by dysfunction and nepotism, this was its first try at implementing ranked-choice voting on a citywide scale, and skeptics had expressed doubts about the board’s ability to pull off the process despite its successful use in other cities.

Under ranked-choice voting, voters can list up to five candidates on their ballots in preferential order. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of first-choice votes in the first round, the winner is decided by a process of elimination: As the lower-polling candidates are eliminated, their votes are reallocated to whichever candidate those voters ranked next, and the process continues until there is a winner.


A few hours later, the board disclosed its unspecified discrepancy, and it was not at all clear Tuesday night how accurate the most recent tally was, or if it was accurate at all.

The results may well be scrambled again: Even after the Board of Elections sorts through the preliminary tally, it must count around 124,000 Democratic absentee ballots. Once they are tabulated, the board will take the new total that includes them and run a new set of ranked-choice elimination rounds, with a final result not expected until mid-July.


If elected, Mr. Adams would be the city’s second Black mayor, after David N. Dinkins. Some of Mr. Adams’s supporters have already cast the ranked-choice process as an attempt to disenfranchise voters of color, an argument that intensified among some backers on Tuesday afternoon as the race had appeared to tighten, and is virtually certain to escalate should he lose his primary night lead to Ms. Garcia, who is white.

It appears that I'm not the only one who thinks that runoffs tend to disadvantage minority candidates.


While it is difficult, it is not unheard-of for a trailing candidate in a ranked-choice election to eventually win the race through later rounds of voting — that happened in Oakland, Calif., in 2010, and nearly occurred in San Francisco in 2018.

The winner of New York’s Democratic primary, who is almost certain to become the city’s next mayor, will face Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, who won the Republican primary.

Yeah, that racist clown is the Republican nominee, so the primary is the real election here, even if the eventual nominee is found in bed with Donald Trump.


Other close observers of the election separately expressed discomfort with the decision to release a ranked-choice tally without accounting for absentee ballots.

Yeah, this has been completely mismanaged.

BTW, did I mention that the board of elections also sent out the absentee ballots late in 2020? 

The good citizens of New York are in for a bumpy ride.


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