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State Board Of Elections Agrees To Help NYC Implement Ranked-Choice Voting

Brigid Bergin :: Gothamist

A year-long stalemate that threatened to add more chaos and confusion to the first year of ranked-choice voting in New York City’s elections, including the high-stakes June primary, broke on Wednesday after the State Board of Elections agreed to come up with a plan to certify tabulation software for the city.

The move came the same day Gothamist / WNYC first reported on an impasse between the city and state boards, based on partisan disagreement, that was forcing the city to shelve its plan to rely on software to count the results in the ongoing special election in 24th City Council district and instead rely on a hand tally for the final results.

While the city is still expected to manually count results for this election — where less than 400 people have voted after the first four days of early voting — they will now also run the Universal Ranked Choice Voting Tabulator. This decision reduces the likelihood that the city would need to rely on a similar hand tally later this spring when there will be more contests and more voters casting ranked-choice ballots.

In an email sent to the New York City Board of Elections late Wednesday, the bipartisan co-directors of the state BOE agreed to work with the city to develop a plan to ensure the system it uses to count votes complies with state testing and certification requirements, while continuing to note the objections from the Republican Commissioners, Peter Kosinski and Anthony Casale.

Dear Director Ryan and Deputy Director Sandow,

We are writing in response to your letter of January 14, 2021 regarding the software required for Rank Choice Voting (RCV) tabulation.

The New York City Board of Elections needs to submit to the State Board’s Operations Unit an application for appropriate software testing and other examination along with any documentation, hardware and software deemed necessary, and that examination will go forward. However, we do note that Commissioners Kosinski and Casale still have reservations about the legality of the use of RCV elections in races that are subject to the primary run off provisions of Election Law § 6-162.

Moreover, we realize that there is a special election currently underway in NYC and two more on the horizon, and NYSBOE will work with NYCBOE as to interim procedures to conduct the RCV tabulation until such time as a full examination is complete and successful.

Our staff is prepared to meet with you as soon possible to discuss these issues.

The email was signed by the co-executive Directors of the state board, Todd Valentine and Robert Brehm.

The city Board's Executive Director Michael responded to the state's email with this reply:

Dear Co-Executive Directors Brehm and Valentine:

Re the above matter, thank you for your reply to our several requests for guidance (most recently January 14th).

As you are aware on December 10, 2020, the City Board provided you the RCV RFP response document consisting of 113 pages. In addition, the algorithm software is open source code and otherwise available to the general public. Between the response document and the publicly available source code, I am certain that the State Board is either in possession of, or has access to, substantially sufficient information to commence the appropriate review process.

Immediate commencement of the review process, while the formal submission is finalized, will facilitate an expeditious completion thereof. Of course, the City Board will work cooperatively with the State Board to establish interim procedures, complete the submission and provide any additional information that may be deemed necessary.

The city BOE is in the middle of conducting its first special election using the new ranked-choice voting system, which allows a voter to select up to five candidates in order of preference. There are eight candidates on the ballot in the eastern Queens district. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent after the first vote, the candidate that comes in last place is eliminated. Voters who chose that candidate will have their second choice counted in the next tally. The elimination rounds continue until a candidate gets a majority of the vote.

The State Board of Elections meets on Thursday at 12 p.m.

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