NEW YORK – Revised vote counts in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary show Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams maintaining a thin lead, a day after a first attempt to report the results of a ranked choice voting analysis went disastrously wrong.
The mayor’s race, part of the first city election to use ranked choice voting, was thrown into disarray Tuesday after the city’s Board of Elections posted incorrect preliminary vote counts and then withdrew them hours later.
Corrected numbers released Wednesday showed Adams, a former police captain and state senator, leading former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia by 14,755 votes. Civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley was practically tied with Garcia, falling just 347 votes behind in the ranked choice analysis. It essentially allows some candidates to pick up votes from voters whose first choices get eliminated for lack of support.
The corrected results still don’t paint a complete picture of the race. Nearly 125,000 absentee ballots have yet to be counted.
With Adams’ thin lead, Garcia or Wiley could catch up when absentee ballots are added to the mix starting on July 6. Final results in the primary could be weeks away.
Adams' advantage narrowed substantially from an unofficial election-night count that involved only voters' first choices. Still, his campaign called the lead “significant."
"We are confident we will be the final choice of New Yorkers when every vote is tallied,” the campaign added.
Garcia said she, too, remained “confident in our path to victory” but wasn't taking it for granted. Wiley, meanwhile, called the race “still wide open.”
“Following yesterday’s embarrassing debacle, the Board of Elections must count every vote in an open way so that New Yorkers can have confidence that their votes are being counted accurately,” she tweeted.
The Board of Elections apologized for Tuesday's mistake, which involved the accidental inclusion of 135,000 test ballot images in the vote totals. Wednesday's revised results included about 17,000 more votes than the election-night total, but the board said that was because a small percentage of precincts weren't yet counted on election night.
The board insisted the new counts were accurate and said it was now doing more checks and reviews before releasing more data.
“We will do so with a heightened sense that we must regain the trust of New Yorkers,” board President Frederic Umane and Secretary Miguelina Camilo said in a statement.
Still, critics said the mishap proved that the board was not equipped to handle the new ranked choice system.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called for “a complete structural rebuild” of the board, which operates independently of his office. The City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus — whose leaders favor putting a repeal of ranked choice voting on the November ballot — noted that its members had warned that the city wasn't ready for the new system.
"The concerns they raised continue to be borne out by the facts,” the group said in a statement.
Before the new counts were released Wednesday, Adams filed a lawsuit seeking to preserve the ballots and voting machines to ensure an accurate count.
The board declined to comment on the suit.
Garcia's campaign said it would pursue the necessary legal steps to ensure that ranked choice votes “are fully and accurately counted.” The Wiley campaign had no immediate comment.
Lawsuits seeking court oversight of election tallies are not uncommon, especially in close races.
New York City adopted ranked choice voting for primaries and special elections in a 2019 referendum and used the system in citywide races for the first time in the June 22 primary.
Under the system, voters could rank up to five candidates in order of preference.
Since no candidate was the first choice of more than 50% of voters, a computer on Tuesday tabulated ballots in a series of rounds that worked like instant run-offs.
In each round, the candidate in last place is eliminated. Votes cast for that person are then redistributed to the surviving candidates, based on whoever voters put next on their ranking list. That process repeats until only two candidates are left.
Adams’ lead shrank significantly in Wednesday's figures because he didn't do nearly as well as Garcia among voters whose first choices were Wiley or 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, the other top candidates.
Garcia and Yang campaigned together, and she was the top alternative pick among his supporters. A little more than half of Wiley’s backers went to Garcia as an alternate choice, while only 20% supported Adams.
In all, more than 117,000 voters didn’t rank either Adams or Garcia anywhere on their ballots. That’s 14% of the votes counted so far.
Versions of the ranked choice system have been used in U.S. cities including San Francisco and Minneapolis for years and in statewide races in Maine.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, which promoted adoption of the ranked choice system, noted that Tuesday's discrepancy was due to human error, not a defect inherent in ranked choice voting itself.
Rob Richie, the president and CEO of FairVote, a nonprofit that advocates for ranked choice voting, said he did not believe Tuesday's flub would have a lasting impact on New Yorkers' faith in the ranked choice system.
“This certainly, fundamentally, is not anything about ranked choice voting, and it certainly is about the historic challenges that the Board of Elections has faced,” Richie said.
The winner of New York City's mayoral primary will be the heavy favorite in the general election against Curtis Sliwa, the Republican founder of the Guardian Angels.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed.