Tuesday is the last day to vote in the New York City primary, a municipal election unlike any other. But most contests are destined to drag on far after the final vote is cast.
With so many positions open, so many candidates running, many voters sending absentee ballots — and New Yorkers using ranked choice voting for the first time — the results in many races may not be known until mid-July.
That doesn’t mean anything necessarily went wrong. The extended wait is a product of a confluence of events and laws intended to protect voters. A crystal ball won’t do you any good, but here are some factors to keep an eye on.
Absentee ballots and ranked choice voting
Because of the pandemic, New York changed the rules so that any voter could request an absentee ballot and vote by mail. This means that absentee ballots could have greater sway over the results this year than in past elections when only certain voters could request them.
This year, more than 220,000 voters asked for absentee ballots. As of Monday, more than 82,000 had been returned.
Happy Election Day eve NYC Twitter! The latest data from @BOENYC shows more than 220K voters in NYC requested absentee ballots for this primary election. As of this morning, the board's gotten about 82k completed absentee ballots back. Here's the breakdown by borough. pic.twitter.com/9yL54lufEQ— Christine Chung (@chrisychung) June 21, 2021
With more voters using absentee ballots, that means it will take longer until we know the final vote count, thanks, in part, to voting laws put in place to make sure every ballot is counted.
Absentee ballots need to be postmarked on or before June 22 to count, and they need to get to a city Board of Elections office by June 29.
Following that deadline, there are several days set aside for a “curing process” in which voters have the chance to correct certain ballot errors flagged by the Board of Elections, such as forgetting to sign the envelope. Voters will be notified of the opportunity to make the fixes.
Cured ballots are due back by July 9, according to city Board of Elections officials. The official count — including the all-important rankings of every candidate’s total results — will start after that.
We’ll be getting more information little by little between Tuesday and the official count in mid-July, when we’ll actually find out who won. Here’s what you can expect:
On Tuesday night, we should get unofficial results for in-person first-choice votes. That includes ballots from early and primary-day voters — but not absentee votes or affidavit votes, which are filed when voters can’t confirm their registration in order to sign in at a poll site.
These initial results will just be based on whom most voters ranked number one on their ballots. In most ranked-choice elections, the candidate who receives the most first-choice rankings ends up winning. But that’s not always the case, especially when top candidates are close.
Polls close at 9 p.m. The first-place results will be published on the BOE website at some point after and will be updated every five minutes, officials say, along with what percentage of voting locations have been counted. The BOE will also release the number of absentee ballots that have been received as of Primary Day and the number still outstanding.
Candidates need to capture over 50% of the vote to win outright on Tuesday, with enough of a margin that absentee ballots couldn’t possibly change the result. Otherwise, they must wait for all absentee ballots to come in and for voters to cure errors before the ranked-choice count begins.
We most likely will not be able to tell the winner for most races on Tuesday night.
“The results will be incomplete, and it may or may not be a prediction,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York. “We’ll only know in hindsight.”
The week after Primary Day
On June 29, the city BOE will run the ranked choice voting tabulation and release another set of unofficial in-person results. The results will be published on the BOE’s website.
The reason for the seven-day gap: The BOE has to retrieve the vote counting machines from all the locations and add up all the data, which is a time-consuming process. These ranked choice results will not include absentee or affidavit ballots, so they will still be incomplete.
Two weeks after the election
On July 6, the BOE will publish another round of ranked-choice results, this time including some of the absentee ballots that have been counted. This may shed more light on who’s ahead, but the results won’t be official yet.
The cured absentee ballots with corrected errors aren’t due until July 9. In the past, one in five absentee ballots fell into this category, so an official count can’t happen until after voters get a chance to fix those errors. (Not everyone follows through; uncorrected votes get canceled.)
Three weeks after the election
We’ll officially know who the party nominees are when every vote is counted and the results are certified, most likely during the week of July 12.
But wait: This date could still not be the end of the line in tight races where campaigns object to certain ballots in bids to disqualify them. The legal process involved in such challenges could delay results in some races.
After the election is certified, the BOE may release upon request what election officials call “cast vote records,” which can reveal rich details and data about the results.
Ranked choice voting only happens in primaries for local races, so whatever the outcomes now, one thing is sure — the process will be a little simpler for the general election in November.