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Eric Adams’s Lead In The New York Mayoral Primary Was Just Too Big To Overcome

It was worth the wait for Eric Adams. 

On Tuesday, July 6 — two weeks after election day — the Brooklyn borough president all but locked up a victory in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City. With almost all ballots now accounted for, Adams now leads former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent in the final round of ranked-choice voting. As a result, the Associated Press has projected Adams as the primary winner (he now enters the Nov. 2 general election as a heavy favorite in this very blue city).

These results aren’t 100 percent final, but despite that narrow margin, it’s very likely that there aren’t enough outstanding ballots to change the outcome. That’s because almost all of the Democratic absentee ballots known to have been returned have now been counted — 118,085 of 125,794. And even if there are still 7,709 ballots left to count in the mayor’s race, that isn’t enough to erase Adams’s 8,426-vote lead in the final round.1 

Not that Garcia didn’t make Adams sweat. Adams’s lead is actually much bigger if you look only at voters’ initial 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 conceded on election night) of 12 percent. (This is notable because conventional wisdom held that absentee ballots would help Garcia, but these first-round results are little changed from where they stood on election night, before any absentees were counted.)

But Garcia gained a ton of ground on Adams once the New York City Board of Elections ran its ranked-choice-voting tabulations. Under this new system, adopted by New York City last year, voters can rank up to five candidates in the order of their preference. Then, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and his or her votes are redistributed to the candidates ranked second on their ballots. This process repeats until there are only two candidates left; whoever has the most votes in the final round is the winner. 

After you perform these calculations for the mayoral race, Garcia goes from an 11.2-point deficit to Adams to just a 1.0-point deficit. Garcia is able to pull that off in large part because a majority of Wiley supporters ranked Garcia ahead of Adams on their ballots (Wiley was one of the race’s most progressive candidates, Adams one of its most conservative), and Wiley ends up being the last candidate eliminated the way the ranked-choice rounds currently play out.2 Garcia’s gain is clear after the penultimate round of ranked-choice 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 last 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 were therefore exhausted).

Ultimately, though, Adams’s lead in initial preferences was just too great for Garcia to overcome. It’s hard for any candidate who trails in the first round of a ranked-choice voting election to come back and win: According to the voting-reform advocacy group FairVote, the first-round leader won 383 out of 398 single-winner ranked-choice voting races nationwide from 2004 through February 2021. And of the 15 come-from-behind winners, the largest first-round deficit overcome to win was 9.3 points. So in the end, it would have been unprecedented in a modern ranked-choice election for Garcia to win. 

Footnotes

  1. The one wild card is that there may be an unknown number of provisional ballots yet to count — but even then, Garcia would need to win an astounding percentage of them.

  2. Theoretically, the last few remaining ballots could change this — for example, Wiley could edge out Garcia for second place in the penultimate round and Wiley, not Garcia, could be the one who goes on to lose to Adams in the final round.

Nathaniel Rakich is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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