Talking Points

NYC BOE shoots electoral reform in the face

The New York City Board of Elections released on Tuesday the preliminary results of ranked-choice voting, showing that, once second and subsequent choices were tallied, the race was much closer than it appeared on Election Day, with only two points separating front-runner Eric Adams and second-place Kathryn Garcia — and the possibility that absentee ballots could ultimately tip the race in Garcia's favor. This prompted a wealth of takes on the vagaries of ranked-choice voting, including by yours truly.

Now we learn that those analyses were based on garbage data. The results that the BOE released mixed the real ballots together with test votes used to validate the working of the software, rendering the results meaningless. The larger discussion of ranked-choice voting, the kinds of perverse results it can lead to and the hollowness of its promise to eliminate the need to vote strategically, remains valid. But the specifics of the NYC mayor's race are now unknown.

The BOE promises revised ranked-choice results later today, but the damage to their credibility has been done. The Adams campaign pointed out yesterday there was something fishy about the numbers, and was immediately criticized; now they've been vindicated. Voters inclined to doubt the integrity of the election are unlikely to be mollified by reassurances coming from the same folks who initially screwed up. Both the Garcia and the Adams campaigns should call for an independent audit of the results before they are announced, simply to demonstrate a joint interest in a result that is error-free.

But the collateral damage in political terms may be wider. There has been legitimate alarm about Republican moves in a number of states to give state legislatures greater control over the electoral process, with the biggest fear being that they might refuse to certify the results in a close race that went against their party, alleging fraud or other irregularities. The Georgia law, for example, allows the state legislature to take over a county's election management if they deem the county board negligent or malfeasant. By their manifest incompetence, the NYC BOE just shot the Democratic narrative on this issue square in the face — notwithstanding that their core fear about partisan interference remains entirely valid.

It is more clear than ever that we need electoral reform in America, and more clear than ever that it needs to proceed on a bipartisan basis if it is to have any credibility.