WASHINGTON – New York City elections officials began releasing preliminary results Wednesday from ranked choice voting in last week’s City Council primaries — but those results may change in the coming days and weeks as additional ballots are tallied.
Voting in the local primaries concluded June 27, but winners have yet to be determined in some City Council contests. That includes several that could advance to ranked choice voting and be subject to subsequent rounds of ballot-counting, where voters’ second through fifth choices are taken into account if no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes.
The city is still in the process of tabulating first round results. Unlike in some other places that use ranked choice voting, such as the states of Maine and Alaska, the preliminary tabulation of ranked choice results in New York is released before that initial count is complete. The Board of Elections will continue to release updated preliminary results on a weekly basis until all outstanding ballots have been counted and the elections are certified.
Here’s what voters and election observers will need to know in the coming weeks:
WHAT’S AT STAKE
One primary, the Democratic contest in District 19 in northeast Queens, will definitely be decided by ranked choice voting since all three candidates are well below the 50% threshold. In three additional major party races, the leading candidates hover near the 50% mark as ballots continue to be tabulated.
In one of these races, the District 9 Democratic primary in Harlem, the Associated Press declared Wednesday that criminal justice reform activist Yusef Salaam has won his contest after preliminary results indicated that he will be the clear winner even if it does proceed to ranked choice voting.
Three additional City Council primaries remain unresolved as counting continues, but will not involve ranked choice voting as they each feature only two candidates.
WHAT IS RANKED CHOICE VOTING?
Ranked choice voting is designed to produce election winners who supporters argue are generally more representative and have broader support among voters than in traditional multi-candidate elections. Under this process, voters in elections with three or more candidates on the ballot are given the opportunity to rank the candidates in order of preference. Any candidate with a majority of first-choice votes wins. If no one receives more than 50% of the vote, the last-place candidate is dropped and their votes redistributed to the remaining candidates based on those voters’ next-highest choices. The process continues until one candidate receives a majority of the vote.
WILL PRELIMINARY RANKED CHOICE VOTING RESULTS TELL US WHO WON?
Wednesday’s release of preliminary ranked choice voting results indicates which candidates would win their primaries based on the latest available vote tally. The results include the initial ranking of candidates in order of first-choice votes received and updated vote totals and rankings once the last-place candidates are eliminated after each round. Since these results do not yet include all ballots cast in the election, they may not reflect the eventual winners once all the votes have been counted.
The Board of Elections says it will release at least two rounds of preliminary ranked choice voting results, including those released Wednesday and again on Tuesday, July 11. The results will not be final until all outstanding votes have been counted and the elections are certified. The deadline to receive absentee ballots is Wednesday. The certification date has not been set; however, it is not expected before July 17, which is the last day to resolve any remaining ballot issues.
The Associated Press may declare a winner before the vote is certified if it’s determined that there is no scenario what would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If the AP has not called a race, we will continue to cover any newsworthy developments in our reporting, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, we will make clear that the AP has not yet declared a winner and explain why.
HOW MIGHT PRELIMINARY RESULTS DIFFER FROM THE FINAL RESULT?
As more outstanding votes are counted, the vote totals for each candidate could change, which could impact their overall order of finish and the order in which they are eliminated after each round of tabulation. In some races, it’s possible that preliminary results could show a leading candidate above the 50% mark in preliminary results, enough to avoid ranked choice voting, but fall below 50% in the final results, which would trigger the ranked choice voting requirement.
The opposite could also happen: A candidate might be hovering just under the 50% mark in the initial results, which would throw the race into the ranked choice voting process, even though that candidate may end up with a majority of first-choice votes once all the ballots have been counted. For example, in the District 9 race, updated results from the Board of Elections put Salaam in first place but just short of the 50% mark, which would trigger the ranked choice voting process. Future vote count updates could show Salaam with more than 50% of the final vote tally, in which case he would win easily since he has a commanding 25-point lead.
The AP called the race for Salaam because the preliminary results indicated that he will win the race even if it does go to ranked choice voting.
In the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary, the first citywide use of ranked choice voting, the candidate rankings, order of elimination and ultimate winner did not differ between preliminary and final results. Mayor Eric Adams led throughout. Ranked choice voting had a shaky debut in New York City that year when a clerical error at the Board of Elections led to the release of inaccurate vote results in the hotly contested Democratic mayoral primary, although the error was eventually corrected and was not a result of the ranked choice voting process itself.
The New York City Board of Elections declined to comment for this story.