On Tuesday, New York City held the election that will effectively decide the next mayor of the most populous city in the U.S. (Technically, Tuesday was just the primary, but given how blue New York City is, the Democratic nominee is heavily favored in the Nov. 2 general election.) However, we aren’t expected to know the official winner until the week of July 12. That’s partly due to the city’s adoption of ranked-choice voting for municipal elections, but mostly it’s because New York takes a long time to count absentee ballots. (Absentee results won’t even begin to be released until July 6.)
That said, some preliminary results have already been announced: specifically, the first-choice results of ballots cast in person (either early or on Election Day). As of 2 a.m. on June 23, with 799,827 ballots counted, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams had 32 percent of first-choice votes, attorney Maya Wiley had 22 percent, former New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia had 20 percent and businessman Andrew Yang had 12 percent. (Nine other candidates received less than 6 percent of the vote each.) Based on this initial vote tally, Adams, a moderate former police officer who campaigned on a tough-on-crime platform is in a strong position to win. However, there is still a narrow path to victory for the progressive Wiley or the technocratic Garcia. (Yang, meanwhile, has already conceded.)
That path to victory starts with absentee ballots. According to the New York City Board of Elections, 86,920 absentee ballots have already been submitted in the Democratic primary, and up to 120,580 more could still be en route (in this election, absentee ballots can count as long as they were postmarked by June 22 and arrive by June 29). And there are a couple reasons to believe that these ballots will help Wiley, and especially Garcia, make up ground.
According to polls of the mayor’s race, Wiley and Garcia are particularly strong with white and college-educated voters — precisely the type who tend to vote absentee. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted shortly after the 2020 election, 64 percent of white Biden voters voted absentee, compared with only 56 percent of Hispanic Biden voters and 39 percent of Black Biden voters. In addition, 63 percent of Biden-voting college graduates voted absentee, versus only 54 percent of Biden voters without a college degree.
If you look at the neighborhoods of New York City that used absentee voting most heavily in the 2020 primary, they also overlap quite a bit with the neighborhoods whose first choice for mayor was Garcia (most of Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn) and to a lesser extent Wiley (Greenpoint, Brooklyn; Astoria, Queens).
But absentee ballots will probably only narrow, not erase, Adams’s lead. (Case in point: Say there are 100,000 absentee ballots left, and Garcia gets 40 percent of them while Adams gets 10 percent. Adams would still lead Garcia 29 percent to 22 percent overall.) Wiley or Garcia would therefore need to rely on New York City’s new system of ranked-choice voting to secure a victory.
Ranked-choice voting in the Big Apple works like this: Voters can rank up to five candidates in order of preference, from their first choice to their fifth. Then, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and his or her votes are redistributed to the candidates ranked second on their ballots. This process repeats until there are only two candidates left, and whoever wins that final round is declared the Democratic mayoral nominee.
Therefore, under ranked-choice voting, the candidate who leads in initial preferences isn’t guaranteed to be the ultimate winner. For example, if every Garcia, Yang and minor-candidate voter ranked Wiley second, Wiley could leapfrog Adams once their votes are redistributed. But in practice, a candidate’s votes don’t move en bloc like that, and ranked-choice voting usually doesn’t produce a different winner than regular old plurality voting. The voting-reform advocacy group FairVote has tracked 398 single-winner ranked-choice voting races in the U.S. since 2004, and 383 were won by the candidate who was leading after the first round. And of the 15 come-from-behind winners, only three overcame first-round deficits larger than 6.2 percentage points.
That gives you a sense for why Adams is in a good position. Even if Wiley or Garcia are able to use absentee ballots to whittle Adams’s lead down to, say, 6 points, historical precedent would still be strongly in Adams’s favor. That said, we can’t totally rule out a Wiley or especially a Garcia comeback. In the two most recent polls of the mayor’s race, from Data for Progress and Citizen Data/FairVote, ranked-choice voting pulled Garcia 12 and 6 points, respectively, closer to Adams in the final round than she had been in the first round. However, Wiley only got 2 points closer to Adams in the Citizen Data/FairVote poll and actually fell 3 points further back in the Data for Progress poll, suggesting she wouldn’t consolidate the anti-Adams vote as effectively as Garcia. Given how close they are in initial preferences, it’s hard to predict which of the two Adams will face in the final round, although Garcia’s likely strength with absentee ballots and quasi-alliance with Yang might give her the edge.
We’ll dissect the results in even more detail once some of those blanks are filled in and we know the winner for sure, but again, don’t wait around for it — that date is likely three weeks away. But for now, Eric Adams can start measuring the drapes.
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