By David E. Hubler
In a democracy, elections are a wonderful expression of civic responsibility and the peaceful transition of power. As Abraham Lincoln said, “The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”
Although election returns in the United States today are routinely processed promptly thanks to electronic balloting, sometimes there are issues that are not resolved quickly and the outcome can remain in doubt for some time.
Indeed, notes National Geographic, in their wisdom the framers of the Constitution made postponing a presidential election “more trouble than it’s worth.
“In fact, the United States has never delayed a presidential election and only moved it for administrative reasons twice—both within the first 60 years of the country’s founding. And presidential elections have never been delayed due to a national crisis—not even the Civil War or the Great Depression.”
Sometimes Americans Are in the Dark for Days or Weeks after Election Day
While voting has never been delayed, arriving at a true and accurate tally of all legitimate ballots has sometimes kept Americans in the dark for days or even weeks after Election Day. The most well-known delay in recent memory occurred in 2000.
On that November 7 election night, it became clear that “the vote in Florida was going to determine not only the winner of that state’s 25 electoral votes but the next occupant of the Oval Office,” as National Public Radio’s Ron Elving recalled. Ultimately, it came down to just 537 votes out of six million cast. “What followed was a five-week war over the ballots, the rules, the law and the courts.”
In the end, Texas Governor George W. Bush was declared the winner over then-Vice President Al Gore.
As anyone who follows American democracy knows, verbal and even physical attacks on universal suffrage in the U.S. have increased since then, culminating in the insurrection at the Capitol building on Jan. 6, to delay certification of the 2020 presidential election.
Delays Are More Common These Days in State and Municipal Elections
Delays in state and municipal elections are far more common. For example, the New York City Democratic mayoral primary, held on June 22, continues to drag along without a firm winner. Indeed, there are almost as many reasons for the delay as there are candidates.
As of July 2, the mayoral primary moved into a new phase, the wait for absentee ballots. “A preliminary, nonbinding tally of ranked-choice votes on Wednesday showed a highly competitive race, with Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, holding a lead of about two percentage points over Kathryn Garcia, a former city sanitation commissioner,” The New York Times reported Friday. “Under the ranked-choice elimination-round process, Maya Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, finished just behind Ms. Garcia, trailing by fewer than 350 votes.”
The candidates represent a cross-section of New York’s ethnic and racial groups. In addition to Adams, Garcia and Wiley, the other candidates include Dianne Morales, executive director of a South Bronx-based affordable housing nonprofit organization; City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Shaun Donovan, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development and director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the Obama administration. First-time political candidate and former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire conceded just ahead of what had been expected to be the final primary results.
When No Candidate Got 50 Percent of the Vote, the New Ranked-Choice System Took Effect
Because no candidate got 50 percent of the vote in the initial balloting, New York’s new ranked-choice system took effect. Introduced this year, ranked choices ask voters not only to select their top choice, but also to rank their top five candidates in order.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of votes in the first round, the winner is decided by a process of elimination. So, as the poorer-polling candidates are eliminated, their votes are reallocated to whichever candidate those voters ranked next, and the process continues until there is a winner.
The most recent delay occurred on Tuesday when the city Board of Elections released a new tally of votes and soon took down the tabulations from its website, citing a “discrepancy.”
As The New York Times reported Wednesday, “The results released earlier in the day had suggested that the race between Eric Adams and his two closest rivals had tightened significantly.
“But just a few hours after releasing the preliminary results, the elections board issued a cryptic tweet revealing a ‘discrepancy’ in the report, saying that it was working with its ‘technical staff to identify where the discrepancy occurred.'”
A new advisory later in the evening said the results would be available “starting on June 30.” That date too has passed.
And so, as America celebrates its 244th birthday, residents of New York City, the nation’s first capital, await the outcome of one of its longest and perhaps most frustrating local elections.