NEW YORK — More than 130,000 ballots used for pre-election testing made it into the city’s ranked choice voting numbers released Tuesday that showed a shrinking lead for mayoral contender Eric Adams, the board announced hours after it released and deleted the data.
Officials acknowledged a discrepancy in the ballot count Tuesday afternoon; later in the evening, it finally explained what went wrong after hours of questions.
“The Board of Elections conducts rigorous and mandatory pre-qualification testing for every election. It has been determined that ballot images used for testing were not cleared from the Election Management System (EMS),” officials said in a statement.
The board went on to say that about 135,000 test ballots were included in Tuesday’s ranked choice voting data, in addition to the in-person ballots it used to conduct the ranked choice voting simulation, which would have been about the same total as election night ballots if done properly.
“Board staff has removed all test ballot images from the system and will upload election night results, cross-referencing against election night reporting software for verification,” the board said. “The cast vote record will be re-generated and the RCV rounds will be re-tabulated.”
Some of the campaigns impacted commented on the botched data dump Tuesday night.
“Today’s mistake by the Board of Elections was unfortunate,” the Adams camp said. “It is critical that New Yorkers are confident in their electoral system, especially as we rank votes in a citywide election for the first time. We appreciate the Board’s transparency and acknowledgment of their error. We look forward to the release of an accurate, updated simulation, and the timely conclusion of this critical process.”
The Maya Wiley campaign, whose candidate was in second place until the final rounds of elimination, was less appreciative.
“This error by the Board of Elections is not just failure to count votes properly today, it is the result of generations of failures that have gone unaddressed,” Wiley said in a statement. “Sadly it is impossible to be surprised. Last summer BOE mishandled tens of thousands of mail in ballots during the June 2020 primary. It has also been prone to complaints of patronage. Today, we have once again seen the mismanagement that has resulted in a lack of confidence in results, not because there is a flaw in our election laws, but because those who implement it have failed too many times. The BOE must now count the remainder of the votes transparently and ensure the integrity of the process moving forward. New Yorkers deserve it.”
Frontrunner Kathryn Garcia released a statement late Tuesday reacting to the news.
“New Yorkers want free and fair elections, which is why we overwhelmingly voted to enact ranked choice voting. The Board of Elections’ release of incorrect ranked choice votes is deeply troubling and requires a much more transparent and complete explanation,” she said. “Every ranked choice and absentee vote must be counted accurately so that all New Yorkers have faith in our democracy and our government. I am confident that every candidate will accept the final results and support whomever the votes have elected.”
Shortly after the board released their ranked choice voting data Tuesday, which was meant to show New Yorkers how the new system works, the results they’d posted to their site disappeared and a message read that unofficial results would be available starting Wednesday. The BOE did not explain at the time why they removed the results.
On the day of the primary, the BOE showed just under 800,000 votes with 96.6 percent of scanners reporting; numbers released Tuesday — accounting only for in-person votes — showed 941,832 votes: a large jump considering the percentage of uncounted votes just days ago.
Adams’ campaign quickly questioned the numbers.
“The vote total just released by the Board of Elections is 100,000-plus more than the total announced on election night, raising serious questions,” his campaign said in an emailed statement. “We have asked the Board of Elections to explain such a massive increase and other irregularities before we comment on the Ranked Choice Voting projection.”
More than 100,000 absentee ballots also still need to be processed. The BOE asked New Yorkers to be patient.
“We are aware there is a discrepancy in the unofficial RCV round by round elimination report,” the BOE said in its initial statement. “We are working with our RCV technical staff to identify where the discrepancy occurred.”
Adams’ lead over former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia was about two percent based on the preliminary and unofficial tally released Tuesday.
“I have heard nothing that would make me question the Board of Elections to date,” Garcia said.
PIX11’s Henry Rosoff and Marvin Scott contributed.