NEW YORK – Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will vote Tuesday to vote for the next mayor of the country’s largest city. But the last election days, and perhaps the weeks that follow, might as well be a referendum on the ballot itself.
The city’s new ranked electoral system, which allows voters to choose their top five candidates in order of preference, has turned standard political assumptions on their head since the campaign began. Now a racist struggle has broken out over the process, with the top candidate Level allegations of refusal to vote after two of his opponents formed an alliance at the last minute to strengthen their own campaigns.
The claims of front-runner Eric Adams, Brooklyn District President and former NYPD captain, have laid the groundwork for him to contest the results if the race doesn’t go according to his will – an echo of the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.
Adams, who is Black, suggested that the alliance between Kathryn Garcia and Andrew Yang was a form of voter repression, although such agreements are one of the intended results of the ranked election. District president supporters even went so far as to say the move was intended to “disenfranchise black voters,” a claim made in Adams campaign statements.
The controversy has created uncertainty about how the election result will be received, as ranked short lists are not published until a week after election day and it can be weeks before a final call is made.
When asked on Monday whether he would accept the election result, Adams made no promises.
“Can you assure the voters that you are not doing this?” a reporter asked, referring to claims made by former President Donald Trump that the presidential election had been stolen.
“Yes,” replied Adams. “I assure the voters that nobody will steal my election.”
But ranked polling experts, who have never been tried on a poll of this size, argue that Adams’ concerns are exaggerated – that in most cases, the person who tops the polls and who comes out with the most first place votes wins on election night. In fact, Adams could put some voters off by questioning the integrity of the election, they say.
“There were 429 elections in the US that used ranked voting. Out of all but 15, the candidate with the most votes won first place, ”said Alex Clemens, an experienced Bay Area political strategist and lobbyist at Lighthouse Public Affairs. “It’s unusual when that doesn’t happen.”
The dispute over the electoral process comes after more than six months of concerted campaigning, much of it behind zoom screens, as the city was still under a pandemic lockdown. After a summer of police brutality protests and the chanting of “Defund the Police,” an increase in shootings and a spate of hate crimes have put public safety at the forefront of voter awareness and strengthened Adams ’appeal against crime.
Yang, whose fame as president helped him dominate early polls, resigned when Adams took the lead in recent months. Garcia’s message of steady management and support from the New York Times and Daily News helped her climb to first and second place in some recent polls. And Maya Wiley is riding a late wave of support from the city’s far left, with progressive luminaries like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams have supported their campaign for the past few weeks.
The new voting system and the rapidly changing dynamics at the top of the field have deprived Adams of the usual comfort that a front runner would bring in an election.
Rob Richie, the president of FairVote, a national nonprofit advocating for electoral reform, said he was surprised by the Adams Vitriol, considering it will do pretty well in the ranking polls.
“If I were his campaign, I would not have done some of the things that they have been doing in the past few days,” said Richie. “The more you break up with other people, the riskier a ranking voting strategy is.”
The Adams campaign has been running a scorched earth operation since Yang, a former presidential candidate, teamed up with Garcia, the former city sanitation officer, in the last few days of a recalcitrant election season.
Adams said Monday that his competitors were deaf because they began their alliance on June 10, a commemoration of the end of slavery that was recently made a federal holiday.
“African Americans are very clear about voter suppression. We know about poll tax. We know about the struggle we’ve had in the past and how you had to overcome hurdles to vote, ”he said on CNN. “So if [my supporters] have the feeling based on their perception that it has suppressed the vote, then I respect their feeling. “
Ashley Sharpton, the daughter of Rev. Al Sharpton, said in a statement to the Adams campaign that the alliance was “a cynical attempt by Garcia and Yang to incapacitate black voters through generations so that a wealthy businessman and bureaucrat who has nothing to do with the masses, can steal the election. “
At the beginning of June, long before the alliance between Yang and Garcia, Adams had already begun to sow doubts about the ranking selection process.
“What happens to normal New Yorkers? The electoral board has betrayed us once again and did not properly enlighten us and disseminate information, ”he said during an election freeze in Lower Manhattan. “It would be lucky if we got these results by January 18th. We don’t know how long this will take. I am really concerned about the result, I hope the count does not match the introduction. “
According to the new voting system, which was passed by referendum in 2019, if no one receives more than 50 percent of the votes, the last-placed candidate will be eliminated and the votes of his supporters will be redistributed to the second election of the voter. This process continues until someone gets a majority of all votes.
“It was held up as a voting device and used in many different cities,” said Richie. “What it does in the simplest possible way is to encourage candidates to reach more diverse groups of people.”
In 2018, London Breed, the first black woman to be elected mayor of San Francisco, faced a scenario similar to that of Adams in New York.
“A black candidate led the polls, and a white candidate and an Asian candidate formed an alliance,” said Clemens. “Ultimately, the black candidate London Breed prevailed.”
There are exceptions: at a 2018 congressional race in Maine, a reigning Republican won was defeated despite most of the first choice votes. representative Jared Golden, a Democrat, won by getting more votes against from two independent candidates. The mayor’s races in Oakland and San Leandro, Calif. And Burlington, Vt., Were also won by candidates who did not finish first in the first vote. But these cases account for less than 4 percent of the ranked polls conducted in the United States.
“The headline for the leaderboard selection is that 96 percent of the time the leader wins,” said Clemens.
Other black leaders condemned Adams’s attempts to impose racial policies on Yang and Garcia’s maneuver.
“It is insincere and dangerous to play with the very real and legitimate fears of bigotry and disenfranchisement of voters by pretending that it is present where it is not,” said public lawyer Jumaane Williams, who Wiley, the former lawyer of de Blasio.
Wiley, who is vying to become the first black woman mayor, also condemned Adams ‘comments as” cynical and insensitive “.
“The leadership we need now is leadership that says, ‘Trust our voting system because it works.’ We are not the city in which we suppress the vote, ”she said on Monday during an election freeze in Washington Heights.
Sal Albanese, a former city council member appointed by Adams to the constitutional review committee that proposed a ranked vote for the vote, said the district president showed little interest in the process at the time.
“I’ve really never heard of Eric,” said Albanese, who said he tried to alert Adams but five scheduled phone calls were canceled. “I tried to keep him informed throughout the process, but it was radio silence.”
Albanese, who is running for the council again, has supported Yang.
“I think it’s unfounded,” he said of Adams’ criticism of the Yang-Garcia alliance. “From my point of view, this is a cynical political move. Ranking election, he fully understands it. He knows that there are alliances that are being formed. ”
Jesse Naranjo, Janaki Chadha and Sally Goldenberg contributed to this report.