New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary race is far from over. The city is taking a long time to figure out who has won under the new ranked choice voting system. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams had about a 10-point lead over civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley and former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia when initial first choice preferences were announced on June 23.
But when the initial ranked choice preferences were revealed on Wednesday, Adams led Garcia by just 2 points in the final round.
Here’s the key thing: Garcia has a realistic chance of overtaking Adams once absentee ballots are counted.
There were about 126,000 absentee ballots returned, as of Thursday afternoon. None of those ballots were counted in the ranked choice voting results released on Wednesday. All that has been counted so far are the ballots of those who voted in-person early and on Election Day.
Adams’ margin over Garcia was just under 15,000 in the final round of ranked choice voting in the last count. To win, Garcia must be ranked higher than Adams on these 126,000 absentee ballots by a 12-point margin.
Such math may seem daunting given that Garcia did 14 points worse than that (i.e. losing by 2 points) in in-person voting.
Keep in mind, though, that absentee voters can have vastly different political preferences than those who vote in-person. We saw that two years ago in New York, when Melinda Katz did over 30 points better in initially uncounted absentee ballots than in-person voting to shock Tiffany Caban in the Democratic primary for Queens district attorney.
The good news for Garcia this year is that the people who voted by absentee are likely to be more favorably inclined to her than in-person voters. We don’t know who within these districts voted absentee, but they’re probably voters who demographically match the profile of Garcia voters.
The easy way to see this is by looking at the places where absentee voting was prominent, as first pointed out by Inside Elections’ Ryan Matsumoto. The five New York Assembly districts which returned the most absentee ballots account for 19% of all absentee ballots returned citywide, even though they were just 13% of in-person voters and 8% of residents within the city.
All of these top five were in the borough of Manhattan. Manhattan was the only borough in which a plurality of voters ranked Garcia first in in-person voting. Adams came in third.
When we drill down further, we see that as of June 23, Garcia led these districts by 28 points over Adams in preferences for the first round. This is even wider than her 13-point advantage over Adams borough-wide in first round preferences.
(This same data revealed that Garcia was up by 22 points over Wiley in in-person first round preferences in these districts. This is important because in the penultimate round of the ranked choice voting for in-person votes, Garcia led Wiley by under 400 votes, which caused Wiley to be eliminated instead of Garcia. It seems likely that absentees will extend Garcia’s penultimate round advantage over Wiley.)
The reason Garcia did well in these districts is fairly simple: they’re White and well-educated. We know from the actual results and pre-election data that Garcia did much better among college-educated and White voters than she did among other voters. Meanwhile, Adams did significantly better among voters without a college degree and Black voters.
This same data shows that about 70% of the residents of these districts are White, which is more than double the citywide average. Just 5% of them were Black, which is only about one-fifth of the citywide average.
The fact that the absentee voters would be White and college-educated matches what we saw in 2020. Data from a post-election 2020 Pew Research Center survey reveals that White and college-educated Democratic voters were significantly more likely to vote absentee than non-college educated and Black Democrats.
The question ultimately is whether the demographic advantage Garcia has in who votes absentee is enough for her to gain the 15,000 votes she needs. That is unclear.
What is clear is Garcia definitely benefited from the ranked choice voting process. Despite coming in third in initial preferences, she was ranked higher than Adams on enough ballots to make this a close race.
The fact that Garcia received the bulk of support from voters who favored Wiley to either Adams or Garcia is not too surprising. For one thing, Garcia supporters were ideologically and demographically more similar to Wiley supporters than Adams supporters in pre-election polling.
What is more surprising is that Garcia picked up more votes than Adams from people who preferred former presidential candidate Andrew Yang. This did not match the pre-election polling.
If Garcia ends up winning, she’ll have done so because she was a good politician. She was able to pick up a last-minute endorsement from Yang to be his voters’ second choice. Given he had more than 100,000 voters who ranked him above any of the top three, this endorsement may have made all the difference.