New York City’s grand experiment with preferential voting continued on Tuesday as the city’s electoral board first reallocated ballots from last week’s mayoral race – a process that was greeted with both enthusiasm and confusion.
The announcement of the still incomplete scoring showed that first round leader Eric Adams remained in the lead, with Kathryn Garcia jumping to second place as other contenders like Maya Wiley and Andrew Yang were knocked out of the count.
It’s important to understand that these results are just placeholders. Over 100,000 mail-in ballots were not counted, so no one was in fact “eliminated”. The tally is a simulation, showing what reallocating ranked votes would look like for only the votes that have been counted so far. But that is all subject to change as the remaining votes are counted, which could take several more days.
Still, the preliminary tally gives us our first real glimpse of what the reallocation might look like and the impact of ranking voting on the race. And there are two main points to remember.
It’s still a race
Tuesday’s preliminary round one tally showed Eric Adams with around 29% of the vote, compared to around 20% for Maya Wiley, 18% for Kathryn Garcia, 12% for Andrew Yang and the rest for the other candidates.
Then the magic of reassigning ranked choices kicked in, and there was a reshuffle.
In a selection count by ranking, the lowest ranked candidates are eliminated, one by one. Ballots for eliminated candidates are reallocated to whoever those voters rank next (if any). After all of the candidates with single-digit support were eliminated, there were four left, and this is what the results looked like:
Andrew Yang is in fourth place there, so he was knocked out afterwards. And once he was, and his constituents were reassigned, Garcia narrowly passed Wiley to take second place. (Yang and Garcia campaigned together on the last weekend of the race.)
This reallocation of Yang’s voters is crucial, as it is now Wiley who is in third place out of three candidates, with only a few thousand votes. So with the votes that NYC has counted so far, Wiley is eliminated. (Keep in mind, though, that that could change when the mail-in ballots arrive, and Wiley could finish second after all.)
Then, with Wiley out, the reallocation gets really interesting:
Many more Wiley voters have ranked Garcia as their next backup pick than Adams. Thus, his votes propelled Garcia from 11 points behind Adams to just over 2 points behind.
It wasn’t enough for Garcia to actually overtake Adams. But again, this is just a preliminary count, and depending on how the mail-in ballots break, it’s entirely plausible that she could. But Adams could also still win.
Many voters’ choices were eliminated before the final round
Advocates of the preferential vote often say that it produces a winner by consensus: someone who has the support, in one way or another, of more voters than would be the case in a voting system. majority. But critics of preferential voting often argue that it fails to produce a winner supported by the majority of voters due to a phenomenon known as ballot exhaustion.
A ballot paper is exhausted when all the candidates ranked by the voter are eliminated. Some voters don’t even use all of their ranking slots (in New York City there were five), not listing any secondary candidates. Others use their slots entirely on candidates who end up being screened out.
So far, 941,832 New Yorkers have voted in the Democratic mayoral primary. But during the last round of this preliminary count, 219,944 ballots were exhausted, or 23.3% of the total.
Due to these out of print ballots, another way to understand the end result of this tally would be:
- 39,2 % d’Adam
- 37,5% Garcia
- 23.3% either
And it doesn’t look like the eventual winner of this primary (be it Adams, Garcia or Wiley) will actually be ranked on the majority of the ballots.
Proponents of ranked choice would argue that this is always superior to a pluralist winner system, where the first round tally would have been the end of the day, and voters would not have had the opportunity to list “save” choices.
But before the ranked vote, New York City had a second round – if any candidate exceeded 40%, the top two voters would have headed for a second round.
The argument against trickle downs is that turnout tends to go down for them, but the case for them is that they focus the mind on giving voters a binary choice rather than a crowded and confusing field.
And it is certainly debatable, at least, whether the new system is better at channeling “the will of the voters” than a runoff where Adams and Garcia (or Adams and Wiley) could have argued their case against each other. .