The head of the non-profit, non-partisan group that created the software used by the city Board of Elections to carry out the ranked-choice voting tabulation process said offers to help with a smooth ranked-choice counting process were ignored. The BOE’s first tabulation of in-person votes (including early voting and on Primary Day) led to sheer chaos on Tuesday night when released with incorrect tallies.
Gary Bartlett, executive director of the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, told Gothamist/WNYC that the group had offered its services to run a voting tabulation process using their Universal Ranked-Choice Voting Tabulator. The process would have run concurrently with the BOE’s RCV counting process, using final vote data collected on primary night. The idea, according to Bartlett, was to offer an extra set of eyes for the BOE; this is the city’s first year running an RCV election.
The BOE, however, never returned their voicemail messages or emails, according to Bartlett.
Listen to David Cruz’s interview on describing how the election snafu could have been avoided on WNYC:
“It was offered. It was never acted on,” Bartlett said. “Certainly, they should have at least returned [a call] and said, ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ But they didn’t even do that.”
He added, “I think they were trying to do it on their own because our tabulator is open source coding. It’s available to anyone. However, being the first time out for such a big election, they should have drawn on our expertise and included us.”
On Tuesday, the BOE acknowledged that more than 135,000 test ballots were mixed in with the final vote tally, after learning they had remained in the Election Management System. Under state rules, the BOE carries out a test run of its system ahead of an election to ensure accuracy, but must clear it once again before they go online for an actual tabulation.
How Your Vote Gets Counted
The software used in NYC is also used in municipalities in Utah, Wyoming, and Alaska. Typically, the way an RCV election is processed, any ballot that’s cast on a voting scanner is uploaded to an internal flash drive within each scanning machine. The scanner’s flash drives are then collected and processed through the Election Management System, which then spits out Cast Vote Records of all votes collected during early voting and Primary Day. The final tally then goes through the RCV software that uses a sophisticated algorithm to produce the rankings.
The BOE did not explain what exactly led to the error, though Bartlett suspects human error was involved.
“We would have known point blank that there were more ballots than there were eligible voters,” Bartlett said.
The tabulator was approved by the state Board of Elections in May following a year and a half of back and forth talks with the city BOE over its use.
The BOE also said in their statement that the software was not the issue, and spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez-Diaz told the NY Times, “There was a human error where a staffer did not remove the test ballot images from the Election Management System.”
Something is very wrong in the BOE RCV results today. Certain candidates for Mayor in Round 1 increased their vote totals by over 6-times, compared to the Round 1 Election Night tally. Something is amiss! @JCColtin pic.twitter.com/RftWu2vTmD
— Aaron Foldenauer (@aaronfoldenauer) June 29, 2021
Bartlett added that had the BOE run the parallel tabulation process between Primary Night and June 29th—the day a discrepancy acknowledged by the BOE plunged the mayoral election into chaos—they would have been able to catch the error before publishing results. That mistake was first caught by mayoral candidate Aaron Foldenauer, and then by Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who is the leading contender in the race for mayor.
Despite Adams remaining in the lead, the error appeared to have cut his lead down to two percentage points ahead of Kathryn Garcia, the former city sanitation commissioner who leapfrogged to second place over Maya Wiley.
The city BOE said a more accurate count is expected on Wednesday. That doesn’t mean a winner will be declared as more than 124,000 absentee ballots have not been included in the tally. A count of those ballots is expected in mid-July.
The BOE did not immediately return a request for comment.