By Sara Gifford
Ultimately, New Yorkers and anyone else watching this race want to know what is taking so long to report results. Steve says:
There are three main factors that determine how soon a winner can be projected after the polls close:
- The closeness of the race
- The laws governing when votes may be tallied or prepared for tallying
- For an RCV contest, when the first and subsequent preliminary RCV tallies are performed
I note that the first two factors apply to all elections, not just RCV elections. In fact, when Vice President Kamala Harris first ran for California Attorney General in 2010 in a simple “vote for one, whoever gets the most votes wins” election, the election was so close that it could not be called election night. It wasn’t until three weeks after the election, when enough absentee and provisional ballots had been processed to accurately project the outcome, that her opponent (who, if memory serves, had led on election night, and who traded the lead back and forth with Harris as ballot counting progressed) finally conceded. Harris herself did not declare victory until a week later, after all the counties reported their final vote tallies.
Some in the media are claiming that it is the use of RCV that is delaying the New York City Mayoral results, but that is actually due to the second factor. According to media reports, there are up to 220,000 absentee ballots yet to be counted. This is almost triple the number of votes separating front-runner Eric Adams from current second-place finisher Maya Wiley. So until those ballots begin to be tallied, it is difficult to project the winner.
According to New York State law, absentee ballots postmarked by the day of the election and received up to seven days after the election must be counted. If an irregularity is noticed with the absentee ballot (signature missing or doesn’t match the registration record), the voter must be notified and has 7 business days to “cure” the defect. This will delay the availability of final results possibly into mid-July and has nothing to do with RCV.
Of course, the closeness of an RCV election cannot truly be known until the preliminary RCV tallies are conducted. The New York City Board of Elections doesn’t plan to conduct a preliminary RCV tally until Tuesday June 29th, so we will have to wait until then to see how close the race really is.
A lesson can be learned from the first use of RCV in Oakland in November 2010. On election night, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters only reported the first choice tallies, preferring to wait until the following Friday to run the first RCV tally, after most of the absentee and provisional ballots had been processed. That meant the story Wednesday morning was that the leading mayoral candidate had a supposedly insurmountable nine point lead (34% to 25%) over his nearest opponent. When the RCV tally was run on Friday, it turned out that he had lost by less than 2% to that opponent (as she had picked up more transferred votes from supporters of eliminated candidates than he had), surprising the media, and helping to fuel an unsuccessful attempt to repeal RCV. Had a provisional RCV tally been run on election night, it would have shown the race to be a lot closer than just a consideration of first choices made it appear.
Fortunately, most of the New York media are not calling Adams’ 9-point lead over Wiley “insurmountable,” and are waiting for the Board of Elections to conduct that preliminary RCV tally and process the absentee ballots before projecting a winner. But it would have been better if the Board had run a preliminary tally election night.
Two more brief points, if I may. Under the old two-round runoff system, if no mayoral candidate received over 40% of the vote, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters would have been held on July 20th, four weeks after the first election. And then the same rules about absentee ballots would apply, meaning the winner might not have been known until mid-August. Since RCV eliminates the need for a second election, the result will be known sooner than it would have been under the old system.
Finally, I note that the Democratic primary for Manhattan District Attorney is even closer than that for Mayor, with Alvin L. Bragg Jr. having only a four-point election-night lead over Tali Farhadian Weinstein (34% to 30%). As that is a state office, not a New York City office, it is a simple plurality election, not an RCV one. Yet due to the closeness of that race, we won’t know the winner until mid-July, at the exact same time that we learn the winner of the Mayoral primary. And that has nothing to do with RCV.
Steve Chessin is Co-President of Californians for Electoral Reform (CfER), an organization that since 1993 has been educating and advocating on behalf of alternative electoral systems, including ranked choice voting and various forms of proportional representation. Steve has been interested in electoral systems ever since he went to college in Cambridge, Mass., where they use Choice Voting and the billboards read “Vote Jane Smith #1 for City Council”. Steve lives in Mountain View with his wife and daughter. In his day job he is a software engineer. His hobby is politics.