NEW YORK — The New York City Board of Elections accidentally included results from a mock trial of the city’s new ranked-choice voting system in unofficial primary returns released Tuesday — a snafu that threw the election process into chaos.
Tallies released Tuesday afternoon indicated that Kathryn Garcia had come within 2.2 points of leading Democratic candidate Eric Adams after ranked-choice tabulations were processed. But, shortly after the results were released, reporters and campaign staffers noticed there were roughly 135,000 more votes counted than those reported on election night.
Three hours after releasing the numbers, the Board of Elections issued a statement acknowledging a “discrepancy” and subsequently took down the totals from their website.
After 10 p.m. Tuesday, the board finally came clean with a statement: The “test“ ballots were never cleared out of the tabulation system and thus added the additional votes into the total, skewing the numbers. The board said that it has removed all of the erroneous ballots from the count and will re-run the results — though when the new rankings will be ready was still unclear.
“The Board apologizes for the error and has taken immediate [action] to ensure the most accurate up to date results are reported,” the statement said.
The error drew harsh recriminations from city leaders already wary of ranked-choice voting, including Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who had already begun to question the process.
“Today’s mistake by the Board of Elections was unfortunate,” Adams said in a statement late Tuesday. “It is critical that New Yorkers are confident in their electoral system, especially as we rank votes in a citywide election for the first time.“
The candidate acknowledged “the Board’s transparency“ in disclosing the error and said he looked “forward to the release of an accurate, updated simulation, and the timely conclusion of this critical process.”
The board said it would re-run the results Wednesday, but the delay has already dealt a significant setback to the process. Absentee ballots, which could prove decisive in the final outcome, won’t be counted until next week. And campaigns that end up on the losing end of the final tally are likely to file a flurry of legal challenges based on the board’s prosecution of the election so far. The worst-case scenario — a manual recount of the votes — could delay a final outcome for months.
Maya Wiley, who on election night finished second to Adams in first-rank votes and remains a contender in the race, bemoaned the board’s mistake and referenced its history of headline blunders.
“This error by the Board of Elections is not just failure to count votes properly today, it is the result of generations of failures that have gone unaddressed,” she said in a statement. “Sadly it is impossible to be surprised.”
The City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus said in its own statement Tuesday that the board’s mistake confirmed its worst fears about the rollout of the new system by an error-prone BOE, in one of the most consequential city elections in decades.
“Our members warned the public for months that the City was ill-prepared to execute elections under the new Ranked-Choice Voting system, and the concerns they raised continue to be borne out by the facts,” the group said. “Despite its year-long dithering in implementing Ranked-Choice, BOE still had several months and four separate RCV special elections for City Council this past winter and spring to ensure quality control by the time of the June primary, but has failed here to produce timely and accurate results.”
Susan Lerner of good government group Common Cause New York said that the BOE’s admission showed that human error was to blame and not anything related to the new voting system itself.
“We appreciate all the campaigns’ consistent pro-democracy message that fair and accurate results are worth waiting for,” she said in a statement. “The long time opponents of RCV seizing this moment to attack a more democratic system of elections — that exit polling shows voters overwhelmingly support — are misguided, and misleading the public.”
Adams, who had a large lead headed into last week’s primary, had already begun to sow doubts in the ranked-choice system earlier this month, accusing the elections board of not sufficiently preparing voters for the new system. The approach allows people to pick their top five candidates in order of preference.
“The Board of Elections betrayed us once again and didn’t properly educate and get information out,” Adams said at a Lower Manhattan campaign stop in early June. “It would be lucky if we get these results by January 18. We don’t know how long this is going to take. I’m really troubled about the outcome of this, I hope the counting does not equal the rollout.”
Despite Adams’ dire warnings, New Yorkers appeared to take to the new system fairly easily. But the elections board’s tabulation error is likely to draw a series of complaints if the final results are close — especially from the campaigns themselves. More than 124,000 absentee ballots have yet to be counted and the race is still anyone’s call.
In an odd quirk of election law, candidates must file any legal challenges to the process by Friday even though the full results may not be known for weeks, according to attorney Jerry Goldfeder. That means that if the Adams camp or any other campaign believes it will eventually want to contest the results, they will need to head to court within days to reserve their right to sue.
“It’s crazy,” Goldfeder said. “And it needs to be reformed.”