New York City Democrats are voting to choose their mayoral nominee on Tuesday 22 June, but we may not know who won until mid-July.
Experts say the votes won’t all be counted and certified until the week of 12 July – and even then, if candidates challenge some votes, the process could go on even longer.
That’s because this year’s primary is different, in a number of ways. First of all, due to the coronavirus pandemic, New York has hugely expanded access to voting by mail. For this election, more than 220,000 New Yorkers have requested absentee ballots, and more than 82,000 have gotten them. Those ballots will take time to collect and count – in fact, the city’s Board of Elections won’t even start counting them until 9 July.
Second, this is the city’s first ranked-choice election in its history. That means that instead of just choosing one candidate for mayor, New Yorkers can choose up to five, in order of preference. And that’s not just for mayor – the same goes for comptroller, borough president, and other citywide offices.
After all the ballots are counted, if one candidate wins an outright majority of the first-choice votes, we can breathe a sigh of relief. That person is declared the winner, and the primary is over.
But if not, the count goes on. The last-place winner will then be eliminated, and that person’s votes will go to the candidates who their voters ranked second. Then whoever’s last after that will be eliminated, and the cycle will repeat itself until there’s only one candidate left: the winner.
If that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. It’s also time-consuming. The Board of Elections plans to announce the first round of results on 29 June, then another round on 6 July, and then the – possibly – final round on the week of 12 July.
Given New York’s deep blue politics, the winner of the Democratic primaries will very likely go on to win their general elections in November – although the city that embraced mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg could always surprise us.
Whether the primaries’ complex new system is worth the wait remains to be seen. On the one hand, the new process is obviously slower. On the other, experts say giving voters the ability to rank second and third choices makes room for voices that would otherwise be marginalized.
“Democracy takes time, and every vote counts,” Susan Lerner, head of Common Cause New York, told The New York Times. “Accurate and fair election results are worth waiting for.”