The Sweep: Election Day in Gotham

Plus: How retirements could change the pending Senate map for the GOP.

No quick hits today. It’s an Election Day! And if you’ve ever worked on a campaign, it means you have a lot of nervous energy and try not to think too hard about how many minutes are left in every hour until the polls close. Unless you’re on the Election Day operations team—then you’re just in an all-out panic and secretly hoping for a close race so all your furious sweeping mattered.

But most importantly, thanks to all of you in New York City who poured your hearts into these races. Whether you volunteered at a phone bank or have been on payroll since last November, we are grateful to you!

RCV in NYC

Hey, New York, Election Day is here!! Before the results come in, let’s discuss.

First, this is the Democratic primary. That’s not a caveat because I think a Republican is suddenly going to swoop in and become mayor of New York. But it means that very few people—compared to the population of the country, the state, or even the city—are going to vote today. In fact, we’re talking 10 to 12 percent of the city’s voting population deciding who will be mayor.

There are 3.6 million registered Democrats in the city (plus 500,000 Republicans who are eligible to vote in their own primary, which will add to the overall voting numbers) and 5.6 million registered voters in the city as a whole. In 2013, the last open field, about 690,000 people voted in the Democratic primary for mayor. It dropped to 430,000 people  in 2017 when Bill De Blasio ran for reelection. (The last major surge was in the hotly contested 2018 primary for governor when nearly 1 million city residents voted in the Democratic primary between Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon—but this race lacks the star power or the head-to-head team sport aspects of that race.) So when a bunch of pundits tell you “what this means” and then they try to make any grand pronouncements about our national politics, just keep those—very small—numbers in mind.

Second, that’s a wide range of turnout I just outlined above. And in a race where getting your voters to the polls is the name of the game—this is why you pay campaign consultants the big bucks—the campaigns should have pretty sophisticated voter modeling. And yet. According to the New York Post, Andrew Yang’s campaign is projecting 750,000 to 1.1 million voters while frontrunner Eric Adams and Maya Wiley are predicting closer to 800,000 to 900,000 voters. What?! The Yang campaign can’t narrow down a turnout prediction any closer than 350,000 votes?? Yikes. 

And what’s worse is that even with such wide margins they all look like they overestimated. As of Friday night, “less than 2 percent of eligible primary voters” had cast a ballot. As Board of Elections President Fred Umane told the New York Post, “We were prepared for a larger turnout for early voting. It’s certainly not a high turnout.” 

Third, this is the largest ranked choice voting (RCV) experiment that we’ve ever tried in this country. By a lot. According to New York City’s Civic Engagement Commission, Gotham is joining 17 U.S. cities including San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Minneapolis, as well as the state of Maine. (Also they want you to know “It is also used by the Academy Awards!”) But here’s another fun fact: None of those places are even half as big as New York City. So this is RCV’s big debut on the national stage in a lot of ways. And there are definitely some potential storm clouds up ahead. 

NYC has done two special City Council elections using this system and the result was a bit of a disaster, according to two of the winners: “[I]t took BOE workers at least three days to painstakingly count each ballot by hand,”Selvena Brooks-Powers and Eric Dinowitz wrote in the New York Daily News. “For each round of the reallocation process, paper ballots were stacked high in bins for each candidate. When a candidate was eliminated, the whole hand-counting process started over again, with BOE workers counting ballot after ballot. Ultimately, it took more than three weeks from the election for results to be certified.” THREE WEEKS! And those were races with just a few thousand voters. 

Thankfully, NYC approved some software a couple weeks ago so the initial count won’t be by hand. Phew! Buuuuut, actually, we still won’t have the results for weeks. Why?

Unofficial results for the first round will be released tonight. But then “[a]bsentee ballots will be accepted until June 29, a week beyond primary day” and “[t]he deadline for voters to fix any curable defects, such as a signature issue, with an absentee ballot is July 9.” And given how RCV works with multiple “rounds” of voting and elimination, that means we’re going to be sitting around for a while until all those ballots are in or the margin is large enough that they can’t change the outcome. 

Plus there’s another issue. New York law mandates “a full hand count when the margin of victory is 20 votes or less, or 0.5% or less.” But no one seems quite sure how that applies to RCV since each round is sort of its own mini-election. So is it just a hand recount if the final round is close or any round in which the bottom two candidates set for elimination are within .5 percent? 

Oh and there’s one more legal problem. State law also mandates that any legal proceeding “shall be instituted within 10 days after the holding of such primary.” But if the other rounds of voting don’t happen until more than 10 days after Election Day, how can a candidate file a lawsuit challenging that count? 

Y’all, this is almost as good as a Supreme Court opinion hand-down day for me. So much anticipation! So much drama! Nerd paradise!!!!

For my fellow junkies, here’s some suggested reading before we get those first round results tonight:

Seven Things to Know About the NYC Mayor’s Race by Errol Louis: “New York is in the middle of a crime spike, with homicides up 53% over the last two years and shootings up by more than 100%. Democrats have told pollsters that crime and public safety are their top concerns by a wide margin — giving a huge boost to candidate Eric Adams, a former state senator who spent 22 years in the New York Police Department before going into politics.”

What NYC Will Teach Us About Ranked-Choice Voting by Bill Scher: “Whether or not RCV produces the fairest result is something New Yorkers will have to assess after the election. But we can assess how RCV is impacting the campaign. And we don’t see more civility. We see more Machiavellian machinations.

Eric Adams Says He Has Something to Prove. Becoming Mayor Might Help by Astead W. Herndon: “At age 15, Mr. Adams and his brother were arrested on criminal trespassing charges. Mr. Adams said he was beaten by officers while in custody and suffered post-traumatic stress from the episode. Yet it fueled his desire to become a police officer six years later, he said, after a local pastor suggested that he could “infiltrate” the department and help change police culture.”

Maya Wiley Has ‘50 Ideas’ and One Goal: To Make History as Mayor by Emma G. Fitzsimmons: “As protests over police brutality rocked the nation last summer, Ms. Wiley gained attention on MSNBC for her clearheaded explanations of why some activists wanted to defund the police. Her national exposure created excitement when she entered the race, but also the expectation that she would catch fire as the leading progressive candidate. That has not happened for a variety of reasons.”

Kathryn Garcia Says She Knows How to Manage New York City by Katie Honan: “Ms. Garcia entered the race in January, touting her management prowess. At the time, her biggest challenge was name recognition, she said. She never held public office and spent most of her government career in behind-the-scenes roles. Early polls of the mayoral race showed she had little support in a field of more than a dozen candidates. But recent endorsements from the editorial boards of the New York Times and the New York Daily News boosted her profile. A May 26 poll showed her in the lead in the race, holding a 3-percentage-point edge over Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.”

Andrew Yang, Political Kardashian by Edward-Isaac Dovere: “When Yang entered the mayoral race, few of the supposedly serious observers took him seriously … Yang didn’t know what bodegas were; he says Times Square is his favorite subway station. He spent most of the pandemic at his house in the Hudson Valley, abandoning the city. Almost every bit of policy is new to him. His wide-eyed tweets come off more like Kermit the Frog than Ratso Rizzo. But Yang has defined the race around him.”


Speaking of waiting around, Chris (and the rest of us) are having a hard time handicapping the GOP’s chances to take back the Senate in large part because we don’t know whether they will be defending open seats in Iowa and Wisconsin. Here’s Chris with the latest on that front.

All Eyes on Grassley and Johnson in Senate Struggle

Nobody ever said Ron Johnson had great political instincts, but even the error-prone Wisconsin senator should have known that he would get a bad reception at Milwaukee’s Juneteenth celebration. He was the guy who blocked the creation of the federal holiday in 2020 and said of his decision to end his embargo this year: “While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter.” Now there’s a dude ready to party!

Johnson’s many critics in and out of Wisconsin are having a lot of fun at his expense, but they may be overlooking the most important part of the story: Johnson is acting like he’s running for re-election. As recently as April, Johnson sounded like he was looking for a way to bow out gracefully and abide by his two-term pledge. His line had been that he was “happy to go home” and that it was “probably” his preference to retire. Now, Johnson sounds like a guy taking himself into breaking his term-limit pledge. “I ran in 2010 because I was panicked for this nation,” he said two weeks ago. “I'm more panicked today.” And if a guy were thinking about reelection, he might, for instance, drop his opposition to the Juneteenth holiday and then go try to schmooze voters at a Juneteenth celebration. 

Johnson is one of two Republican incumbents whose pending decisions on reelection could immediately change the Senate map. In the other case, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley could make the Hawkeye State a top target for a red-to-blue flip if he decides not to seek an eighth term. Yes, it’s true that Ann Setzer’s new poll for the Des Moines Register shows that Iowans are ready for someone else who hasn’t been in office for 40 years. Longtime incumbents often look weak when voters are asked about change vs. more of the same. But as soon as you start talking about who the alternative is, the ardor usually fades. If the GOP loses Grassley to retirement, it will do two things: 1) begin what will probably be an ugly and damaging GOP primary race and 2) draw out more money and better candidates on the Democratic side.

Johnson’s case is the opposite. Johnson was already in a weak position with Wisconsin voters before he got behind then-President Donald Trump’s effort to steal a second term. Johnson’s radical moves were out of step for the state and alienated plenty of Republicans. And if he does run, you can bet that Democrats will make sure other Senate GOP candidates have to answer for whatever Johnson is saying on the stump in Wisconsin about stolen elections, etc. Plus, there are viable Republican candidates waiting in the wings, including Rep. Mike Gallagher and former Rep. Sean Duffy. If Johnson opts to break his term-limit pledge, it takes a seat that would otherwise be a toss-up or even a slight GOP lean and turn it into ripe pickings for Democrats.