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New York Primary Election Shows a Varied Response to Ranked-Choice Voting

The newly-implemented system of ranked-choice voting means that New Yorkers won't find out who the true mayoral front-runner is until weeks after the ballots have been cast.

New York Primary Election Shows a Varied Response to Ranked-Choice Voting

It was a rainy primary day in New York City this Tuesday, where 13 mayoral candidates faced off at the end of a bitter, months-long campaign. Official results will not come until July due to New York’s newly implemented ranked-choice voting system. This structure allows voters to rank up to five candidates and eliminates those ranked lowest in a series of rounds until someone receives at least 50 percent of the vote.

Unofficial results for first-choice votes were released by New York’s Board of Elections on primary night, but did not include absentee ballots. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is in the lead with 31.7 percent of the vote, former counsel to Mayor DeBlasio Maya Wiley is in second with 22.3 percent, and former Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia is in third with 19.5 percent. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who ran for President in 2020, conceded the race only two hours after polls closed.

With the unique nature of ranked voting, those who marked Yang as their first choice will still have a say in the democratic candidate for mayor as their vote will be reallocated to their second choice. After second-round reallocations, if no candidate has reached the 50 percent benchmark, the candidate with the lowest percentage will be dropped. Their voters will be redistributed to their next choice and so on until one candidate is declared the winner. The theory behind ranked voting is that every citizen’s preference is reflected in a mayoral candidate better suited for all, an abandonment of what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg referred to as “the American pendulum.”

Despite a system aimed at reaching consensus, New Yorkers had a varied response to the ranked-choice voting system and to the candidates. At Stuytown, Manhattan’s largest apartment complex situated in the East Village, voters seemed to embrace Garcia for their second choice, while their first choices varied widely.

“I ranked Andrew Yang first and Garcia second, and that’s all I ranked,” said Joanna Anello, before any results had been announced. “I like the fact that he’s going to help the homeless and get them off the streets. As an entrepreneur, he’s like a Bloomberg who’s going to bring back the city. If that doesn’t work, I’m going for Garcia because I’m a [former] city employee, and being a city employee, she has been a city servant, so I think she’ll also serve well.”

Mary Blumenthal, who’s most concerned with COVID-19 recovery, ranked City Comptroller and former New York State Assemblyman Scott Stringer first and Garcia second.

“I like Scott Stringer, I think he’s gotten an unfair deal in many ways, and I think he’s competent,” she said. “And I like Garcia, so I put her second.”

Stringer faced sexual misconduct allegations from two women during his campaign and lost significant support from which his campaign never recovered. Despite some strong endorsements, including a second-ranking from Congressional Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Stringer lagged in Tuesday’s primary, finishing with just 5 percent of ranked first-choice votes, and conceded his race late that evening. Therefore, his votes will now be redistributed, helping to account for the elongated primary timeline.

In Brooklyn, where Adams and Wiley seemed to dominate, voters had varied responses to the candidates.

“Eric Adams and Andrew Yang seem like better candidates than the others,” said East Williamsburg resident Heidi Rivera, who wants a pro-police candidate to deal with the city’s increase in violent crime.

Sara Littlejohn, a young leftist, ranked Wiley first and progressive businessman Art Chang second, saying, “I like their policies. I’m very left, and I took a lot of quizzes online and a lot of [assessments] of my views, and they’re who my party views seem to align with.” Littlejohn’s key concern is ensuring New York has affordable housing and continues to be livable for poor and working people.

While Wiley won most of gentrified Brooklyn in the unofficial counts, and Adams captured the rest of the borough due to his incredible support from the Black and Latino communities, pockets of Garcia voters show just how effective her middle-of-the-road, hands-on-experience approach may prove to be.

“She seems to be a manager more than a politician,” said Brooklynite Yury Kotov, who ranked Garcia as number one and listed no one else. “I like that she came from the culture of managing the sanitation department, and that she positioned herself toward the middle of some issues, which strikes what I want in a candidate.”

Yet despite his support for Garcia, Kotov found himself disappointed with the primary choices. “There hasn’t been a candidate who really grabbed my attention,” he said. “They were all kind of wishy-washy, so I had to pick one based on incremental advantages.”

What’s for sure is that the mayoral election has not ended, and that several outcomes are possible. Votes from more than 220,000 absentee ballots will continue to be counted over the coming weeks. Wiley and Garcia still see a path to victory, and hope to gain enough second and third choice rankings in the next few rounds to topple Adams’s advantage. As no candidate in the New York primaries has achieved 50 percent of the first-choice ranking just yet, the Board of Elections will release an unofficial set of results on June 29 and another round on July 6 with additional absentee ballots included. New Yorkers will likely know the official tabulation during the week of July 12, but political analysts say that potential legal challenges to the process could delay certification of the votes even further.

Beyond the choice of mayoral candidate is the question of the very nature of voting in New York. Although a rainy day perhaps dampened turnout, many voters still saw novel ballots and virgin ideas of democracy up close and personal in a country that is questioning the very nature of its political system. Until a final result is released, voters and analysts alike will wait with bated breath on the revelations to come.

“I don’t know what New Yorkers have chosen tonight,” said Wiley during her speech on primary night. “Not any one of us do, because the votes are still being counted. Every single vote will count, every single New Yorker will count.”