The New York City mayor’s race plunged into chaos on Tuesday night after the city Board of Elections released a new tally of votes in the Democratic mayoral primary, and then, several hours later, removed the tabulations from its website after citing a “discrepancy.”
The results released earlier in the day had suggested that the race between Eric Adams and his two closest rivals had tightened significantly.
But just a few hours after releasing the results, the elections board issued a mysterious tweet revealing a “discrepancy” in the report, saying that it was working with its “technical staff to identify where the discrepancy occurred.”
The board would not elaborate on the nature of the discrepancy; Valerie Vazquez-Diaz, a spokeswoman for the board, said only that it was related to the “difference in votes cast” between what was disclosed on primary night and on Tuesday.
By late Tuesday evening, the tabulations had been taken down, replaced by a new advisory that the ranked-choice results would be available “starting on June 30.”
The extraordinary sequence of events seeded further confusion about the outcome, and threw the closely watched contest into a new period of uncertainty at an enormously consequential moment for the city.
For the Board of Elections, which has long been plagued by dysfunction and nepotism, this was its first try at implementing ranked-choice voting on a citywide scale, and skeptics had expressed doubts about the board’s ability to pull off the process despite its successful use in other cities.
Under ranked-choice voting, voters can list up to five candidates on their ballots in preferential order. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of first-choice votes in the first round, the winner is decided by a process of elimination: As each of the lower-polling candidates are eliminated, their votes are reallocated to whichever candidate those voters ranked next, and the process continues until there is a winner.
The Board of Elections ran its ranked-choice voting software on Tuesday, tabulating the results from ballots cast in person during early voting or on Primary Day. It released a preliminary, unofficial tally by mid-afternoon, showing that Mr. Adams — who held a significant advantage on primary night — was narrowly ahead of Kathryn Garcia. Maya D. Wiley, who came in second place in the initial vote count, was close behind in third place.
A few hours later, the board disclosed its unspecified discrepancy, but it was not at all clear Tuesday night how accurate the most recent tally was, or if it was accurate at all.
The results may well be scrambled again: Even after the Board of Elections sorts through the preliminary tally, it must count around 124,000 Democratic absentee ballots. Once they are tabulated, the board will take the new total that includes them and run a new set of ranked-choice elimination rounds, with a final result not expected until mid-July.
Some Democrats, bracing for an acrimonious new chapter in the race, are concerned that the incremental release of results by the Board of Elections — and the discovery of a possible error — may stir distrust of ranked-choice voting and sow divisions along racial and class lines when the outcome is ultimately announced.
In a tweet on Tuesday evening, Mr. Adams urged patience.
“Earlier today, the Board of Elections released a ranked choice voting simulation based on last week’s election results that they have since acknowledged include ‘discrepancies,’” Mr. Adams wrote. “We are waiting for an explanation and still confident in our lead.”
If elected, Mr. Adams would be the city’s second Black mayor, after David N. Dinkins. Some of Mr. Adams’s supporters have already cast the ranked-choice process as an attempt to disenfranchise voters of color, an argument that intensified among some backers on Tuesday afternoon as the race had appeared to tighten, and is virtually certain to escalate should he lose his primary night lead to Ms. Garcia, who is white.
Surrogates for Mr. Adams have suggested without evidence that an apparent ranked-choice alliance between Ms. Garcia and another rival, Andrew Yang, could amount to an attempt to suppress the votes of Black and Latino New Yorkers; Mr. Adams himself claimed that the alliance was aimed at preventing a “person of color” from winning the race.
In the final days of the race, Ms. Garcia and Mr. Yang campaigned together across the city, especially in neighborhoods that are home to sizable Asian American communities, and appeared together on campaign literature.
To advocates of ranked-choice voting, the round-by-round shuffling of outcomes is part of the process of electing a candidate with broad appeal. Mr. Adams has said that he would accept the results of the election, even as he and his allies have long been critical of ranked-choice voting.
But if Ms. Garcia or Ms. Wiley were to prevail, the process — which was approved by voters in a 2019 ballot measure — would likely attract fresh scrutiny, with some of Mr. Adams’s backers and others already urging a new referendum on it. By Tuesday night, though, it was the Board of Elections that was attracting ire from seemingly all corners.
Betsy Gotbaum, the city’s former public advocate who now runs Citizens Union, a good-government group, said “the entire country is watching” the Board of Elections. “New Yorkers deserve elections, and election administrators, that they can have the utmost faith in,” Ms. Gotbaum added.
While it is difficult, it is not unheard-of for a trailing candidate in a ranked-choice election to eventually win the race through later rounds of voting — that happened in Oakland, Calif., in 2010, and nearly occurred in San Francisco in 2018.
The winner of New York’s Democratic primary, who is almost certain to become the city’s next mayor, will face Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, who won the Republican primary.
According to the now-withdrawn tabulation released Tuesday, Ms. Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, nearly made it to the final round. She finished closely behind Ms. Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner, before being eliminated in the penultimate round of the preliminary exercise.
After the count of in-person ballots last week, Ms. Garcia had trailed Ms. Wiley by about 2.6 percentage points. Asked if she had been in touch with Ms. Wiley’s team, Ms. Garcia suggested there had been staff-level conversations.
“The campaigns have been speaking to each other,” Ms. Garcia said in a phone call on Tuesday afternoon, saying the two candidates had not yet spoken directly. “Hopefully we don’t have to step in with attorneys. But it is about really ensuring that New York City’s voices are heard.”
Ms. Wiley ran well to the left of Ms. Garcia on a number of vital policy matters, including around policing and on some education questions. Either candidate would be the first woman elected mayor of New York, and Ms. Wiley would be the city’s first Black female mayor.
“I said on election night, we must allow the democratic process to continue and count every vote so that New Yorkers have faith in our democracy and government,” Ms. Wiley said in a statement on Tuesday. “And we must all support its results.”
Mr. Adams, a former police captain and a relative moderate on several key issues, was a non-starter for many progressive voters who may have preferred Ms. Garcia and her focus on competence over any especially ideological message.
But early results suggested that Mr. Adams had significant strength among working-class voters of color, and some traction among white voters with moderate views.
City Councilman I. Daneek Miller, an Adams supporter who is pressing for a new referendum on ranked-choice voting, suggested in a text message on Tuesday that the system had opened the door to “an attempt to eliminate the candidate of moderate working people and traditionally marginalized communities,” as he implicitly criticized the Yang-Garcia alliance.
“It is incumbent on us now to address the issue of ranked voting and how it is being weaponized against a wide portion of the public,” said Mr. Miller, the Co-Chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus on the City Council.
Other close observers of the election separately expressed discomfort with the decision to release a ranked-choice tally without accounting for absentee ballots.
“There is real danger that voters will come to believe a set of facts about the race that will be disproven when all votes are in,” said Ben Greenfield, a senior survey data analyst at Change Research, which conducted polling for a pro-Garcia PAC. “The risk is that this could take a system that’s already new and confusing and increase people’s sense of mistrust.”
Dana Rubinstein, Jeffery C. Mays, Anne Barnard, Andy Newman and Mihir Zaveri contributed reporting.