The wait for Eric Adams was worth it.
On Tuesday, July 6, two weeks after Election Day, the Brooklyn Borough President nearly scored a victory in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City. With nearly all ballots now tallied, Adams now leads former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent in the final round of ranking voting. As a result, the Associated Press has projected Adams as the winner of the primaries (he now enters the November 2 general election as a big favorite in this very blue city).
These results are not 100 percent final, but despite that narrow margin, it is highly likely that there are not enough outstanding ballots to change the result. That’s because nearly every Democratic absentee ballot known to have been returned has already been counted – 118,085 out of 125,794. And even with 7,709 votes still to be counted in the mayoral race, that’s not enough to erase Adams’ 8,426-vote lead in the final round.
Not that Garcia didn’t make Adams sweat. Adams advantage is actually much greater if you just look initial voter preferences. According to the new totals, Adams was the first choice of 31 percent of New York Democrats, attorney Maya Wiley of 21 percent, Garcia of 20 percent, and businessman Andrew Yang (who awarded on election night) of 12 percent. (This is remarkably conventional because wisdom held that absentee ballots would help Garcia, but these first-round results change little from where they were on election night, before absentees were counted.)
But Garcia gained a lot of ground over Adams once the New York City Board of Elections ran its ranking voting tabulations. Under this new system, adopted by New York City last year, voters can rank up to five candidates in the order of your preference. Then the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed among the second-ranked candidates on their ballots. This process is repeated until only two candidates remain; whoever has the most votes in the final round is the winner.
After running these calculations for the mayoral race, Garcia goes from a deficit of 11.2 points to Adams to a deficit of just 1.0 points. Garcia can pull it off in large part because most of Wiley’s supporters ranked Garcia ahead of Adams on their ballots (Wiley was one of the most progressive candidates of the race, Adams one of the most conservative), and Wiley ends up being the Last Candidate eliminated the way classified election rounds are currently played. Garcia’s gain is clear after the penultimate round of ranked voting, when Adams has 353,664 votes (40.5 percent), Garcia has 265,461 votes (30.4 percent) and Wiley has 253,094 votes (29.0 percent). To get to the final round, 129,446 of those Wiley votes were redistributed to Garcia, while only 49,669 went to Adams (the remaining 73,979 ballots did not rank either Garcia or Adams and thus were exhausted).
Ultimately, however, Adams’ lead in initial preferences was too great for Garcia to surpass. It’s hard for some candidate falling behind in the first round of a ranking vote election to come back and win: According to voting reform advocacy group FairVote, the first round leader won 383 out of 398 single-winner ranked-choice voting races nationwide from 2004 to February 2021. And of the 15 winners coming from behind, the largest deficit overcome in the first round to win was 9.3 points. So in the end, it would have been unprecedented in a modern rank-pick election for Garcia to win.