Queens elections complicated by ranked-choice voting

New York City’s Primary Elections happened just over two weeks ago, but the city’s board of elections is still in the thick of tabulating the vote. With the addition of ranked choice voting this year and drama stemming from the elections board’s dysfunction, figuring out the winner of each election has not been straightforward, yet the field of candidates has narrowed down in some races.

As of July 6, Eric Adams holds a slight lead over Kathryn Garcia in the race to be the Democratic Party’s mayoral nominee, according to election results compiled by Spectrum News. Adams has 51.1 percent of the vote and Garcia has 48.9 percent. In terms of who could win, Adams was the clear favorite as the race’s initial results trickled in, but that clarity was stymied by the revelation of 135,000 test ballots that errantly made their way into the voting system.

NYC’s BOE released a statement via Twitter on June 30 to try and soothe widely held concerns over the board’s ability to properly manage the tabulation process around RCV. They said that the voting tallies were off for mayoral nominees because of ballot images that were not cleared from the Election Management System during a test run. The statement said, “Let us be clear: RCV was not the problem, rather a human error that could have been avoided.”

Ranked choice voting applies to the following races this year: mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and numerous city council elections. And while hundreds of thousands of voters went to the polls on June 22, the last day that the city will not have finalized ballots until July 9. Despite not having a complete vote, the city released a preliminary round-by-round elimination report on June 29 and another on July 6.

The city will release these unofficial reports each week until the election is fully certified. The result of each election that is determined by ranked choice voting will not truly be known until all absentee and military ballots are collected and counted. While some candidates are content with how the voting process is being handled, others have voiced concerns over a lack of transparency.

One of the reasons that the election process can feel dragged out in some races is due to the ballot curing process. Some races don’t need to take them into consideration because of the lead candidate’s margin of victory, but in closer races the ballots can add weeks to the process.

“There were people who made mistakes when filling out there ranked-choice ballot and those were thrown out,” said Martha Ayon, a Queens-based political consultant. “The ballot curing process is only concerned with errors made to the envelope that the ballot is in, not errors made in filling out the ballot itself.”

As per the Queens races, Donovan Richards is the incumbent Queens Borough President and ran against Elizbeth Crowley in this year’s election. The two faced off in a special Democratic primary last year where Richards won, but the general election was cancelled due to safety concerns over the pandemic.

While Richards won that race by a margin of over 10,000 votes, Crowley seems to have gained traction since then. Currently, less than 2,000 votes separate the two among preliminary voting reports, with Richards slightly on top. A victor will be declared in the coming weeks as absentee ballots come in to fill out the picture.

“There’s two sides to each ballot – the envelope side and the actual ballot,” Ayon said, explaining that thousands of ballots will end up discarded because of improper dates or signatures in the wrong spot. “There’s people who actually did not vote – without knowing – because once their ballots were opened by the board of elections they were technically thrown out.”

“If the board of elections worker thinks there’s an error with someone’s ballot, they should fold the ballot up and put it aside, contact the voter and give them seven days to come in and fill it out,” Moya said. “In the end, the board throws it out because the ballot is invalidated.”

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