The New York City Democratic mayoral primary is a total mess. The city’s Board of Elections, known for previous errors, managed to make its biggest one to date when it accidentally included about 135,000 test ballots in its initial calculation of the primary results under the city’s new ranked-choice voting system.
To be clear, there’s nothing nefarious going on here. There’s just incompetence. We will eventually know the result.
But in a time when there is disillusionment with our election system, the Board of Elections failed and gave actors with bad intentions a place to stake their claims.
More voters didn’t trust the 2020 election results than in any election in recent history. A quarter of all Americans had no confidence that the election was conducted accurately. That jumps to 63% among Republicans.
Compare these with a Pew Research Center poll taken just after the 2016 election. Back then, only 5% of Americans had no confidence at all in the results. This included just 11% of Hillary Clinton supporters.
The reason for the jump was because Republicans led by former President Donald Trump conducted a misinformation campaign based on false statements that the 2020 results were somehow illegitimate. Trump presented no proof to back his assertions, and nothing has been found to be widespread by officials.
Now, a day after the New York City Board of Elections’ mistake,Trump, along with other Republicans, is out in full force.
What’s amazing about the Board of Elections error is that it was totally unforced. Election counting errors usually occur on election night, when there is a time crunch. No such time pressure occurred in this situation.
New York City started counting its votes for initial in-person preferences more than a week ago (on June 22). They had a week to run the computer program assigned to calculate how ranked-choice voting would impact the election.
Nobody, apparently, noticed that the vote count for the initial preferences for in-person voting was more than 135,000 votes greater than it was when initial preferences were first counted a week ago. Shifts of a few thousand votes shouldn’t be surprising, because of late-counted in-person ballots. A shift of north of 100,000 votes should have suggested something was amiss to somebody.
Keep in mind, too, that this count does not include any absentee ballots. There have been more than 120,000 absentee ballots returned. It was not necessary for the city to release a ranked-choice vote count without the absentees. Some candidates actually asked for the Board of Elections to release ranked-choice voting results only once the absentees were included.
They did it anyway – and screwed it up.
The question now is what happens from here. The hope is that there aren’t any more mistakes the rest of the way. Even if the Board of Elections has no more mistakes with in-person votes, it still has to count the absentee votes.
Hopefully, the candidates will all recognize the result as legitimate, once all the mistakes are corrected.
Still, this type of error is par for the course for an election board that has been home to miscues in the past. It found and counted ballots more than half a year after the 2012 presidential election. And last year, it sent out 100,000 flawed absentee ballots because of a printing error.
If New York City were in a swing state, its Board of Elections’ mistakes would be notorious.
Ensuring that the Board of Elections doesn’t make these types of errors going forward is paramount.
Members of the board (one from each of the city’s five boroughs) are essentially selected by the Democratic and Republican parties and confirmed by the City Council. Only the governor can remove a member of the Board of Elections.
This system isn’t working, and the only way to change things is through state law.
If things do not change, we have no reason to believe that this week’s error will be the last one for New York City elections.