Last week, the New York State Board of Elections released their “certified” 2016 election results. The problem, FiveThirtyEight contributor David Wasserman pointed out, was that those results were different from the “certified” results for New York City according to the New York City Board of Elections.
For instance, Hillary Clinton earned 347,893 votes on the Democratic line in Bronx County in the city’s certified results, but she notched only 319,392 votes according to the state’s count. Overall, Clinton’s margin over Donald Trump in New York City was 26,903 votes bigger in the city’s count.
That’s a pretty big difference. So I emailed the New York State Board of Elections. Deputy Director of Public Information Thomas Connolly promptly responded that board staff members were “aware that some discrepancies exist in the results that were posted online.” The large difference in the Bronx was “the result of a staff error but was part of what was originally certified.” Connolly said that amended results that fix this error and any others caught up to this point will be posted on Friday by the state. The city’s count seems to be correct.
Obviously, this mistake didn’t affect the outcome of the election. Clinton easily beat Trump in New York City and statewide. It is, however, a good example of how decentralized America’s election system is. Cities often report vote totals to counties who then report to the state. Humans are involved in every step of the process, and errors can occur all along the chain. Most larger errors are caught before certification (see Wisconsin’s 2011 Supreme Court election), but not always. In 2010, New York City found nearly 200,000 uncounted votes a month after the election.
Elections are like high school algebra tests — always check your math. Even “certified” election results aren’t always final.