After just over two days of tabulating, the New York City Board of Elections finished its first count of ballots on Thursday using the new ranked-choice voting system marking a major milestone in a new era for city elections.
Selvena Brooks-Powers, who led the field based on the unofficial results after the February 23rd special election for City Council, grew her lead to winning threshold — more than 50% of the vote — and issued a statement declaring victory in the 31st Council District which covers portions of the Rockaway peninsula and the southeast Queens mainland.
“We are in the midst of a tremendously challenging time, and the 31st District has been one of the hardest hit,” Brooks-Powers said in a statement. Invoking crises the district has endured, from the September 11th attacks, the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in the Rockaway peninsula, the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy, and now the Covid-19 pandemic, she vowed to hit the ground running, “I will work tirelessly to ensure we get our fair share of support, resources, and respect from City Hall.”
After starting the count on Tuesday, staff from the Queens Board of Elections compiled the results by 11 a.m. Thursday morning. By their tally, the final two candidates were Brooks-Powers who won 59% with 3,841 votes and Pesach Osina, who won 41% with 2,674 votes.
There were 936 “exhausted” ballots, which could mean either the ballot was eliminated because the voter did not choose one of the final candidates or there was an overvote. Exhausted ballots are not included in the final tally for the purposes of determining who won a majority of support. The BOE is expected to certify the results Friday afternoon.
Pesach Osina, who went in person to witness the counting on Tuesday, issued a concession statement on Twitter.
Statement by candidate Pesach Osina regarding the unofficial Ranked Choice Voting results for the Queens City Council District 31 Special Election pic.twitter.com/mIufhZTmPD
— Pesach Osina (@PesachOsina) March 18, 2021
“We ran a great campaign, but the voters of the Queens 31st Council district exercised their right, and have used the power of their votes, their ranked choice votes…and they have spoken,” he said. Osina also congratulated Brooks-Powers on her win, while holding open the potential he may run again for the seat in the future.
Brooks-Powers will serve the balance of the term previously held by current Queens Borough President Donovan Richards. But that means if there are any candidates who want to run in a primary, Brooks-Powers could face another challenge as soon as June and, again, for the general election in November.
Advocates for ranked-choice voting framed the results as a sign that voters were beginning to understand and accept the new voting system. Common Cause New York, which advocated for the passage for ranked-choice voting in 2019, conducted exit polling with Edison Research of 635 voters in the special elections for both the 24th and 31st City Council districts in Queens.
According to their results, more than 95% of voters said they found the new ranked-choice ballot “simple to fill out.” A majority of those surveyed, 61%, said they ranked multiple candidates. For those who did not choose to rank their choices, more than 78% said it was because they preferred one candidate.
“Voters have elected a consensus candidate, who won with majority support,” said Susan Lerner, Common Cause executive director. “That’s a huge improvement over our previous system,” she added.