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Board of Elections begins counting thousands of absentee ballots in Queens

Campaign watchers observe the canvass of absentee, military, special and affidavit ballots at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall on June 28. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

While the June 22 New York City primary elections have passed, voters are still waiting to see who emerges victorious in races for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president and City Council. 

The city’s Board of Elections (BOE) began canvassing and tallying absentee ballots on Monday, June 28 and continued on Tuesday, June 29 as it works to determine winners for all of the races throughout the city.

In Queens, BOE employees began tallying votes at Borough Hall. The totals will be added to the BOE’s unofficial early voting and Election Day numbers.

Unofficial results from the city’s BOE were available after polls closed on Election Day, but because of ranked-choice voting (RCV) and thousands of uncounted absentee ballots, several races were left undecided.

Queens had more than 66,000 absentee ballots requested and more than half of those returned as of Tuesday, June 22, according to the BOE.

Campaign watchers observe the canvass of absentee, military, special and affidavit ballots at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall on June 28. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)
Campaign watchers observe the canvass of absentee, military, special and affidavit ballots at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall on June 28. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Election results will not be certified until all ballots are counted including absentee, military, affidavit and emergency, according to the BOE. 

Under RCV, ballots allowed voters to rank their choices one through five for every race. If none of the candidates receive a 50 percent majority, the candidate with the least first-choice votes will be eliminated, and second-choice votes on the eliminated ballot are counted as first-rank votes. If a candidate then passes the 50 percent threshold, they are named the winner. If not, the process repeats until a winner is determined.

According to the BOE, voters’ ballots will be eliminated if they chose the same candidate for all five ranks. Additionally, a ballot will be deemed invalid if a voter gives multiple candidates their top rank.

Canvassing — the purpose of which is to account for every ballot cast and ensure every valid vote cast is included in the election total — will continue each day by the Assembly districts starting Monday until completed.

On Monday, the Assembly districts canvassed included Democratic absentee ballots for 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29, as well as all the Assembly districts’ Republican absentee ballots.

On Tuesday, Assembly districts canvassed included Democratic absentee ballots for 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32 and 33; as well as for Republican absentee ballots for Assembly districts 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, and 40.

Campaign watchers observe the canvass of absentee, military, special and affidavit ballots at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall on June 28. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)
Campaign watchers observe the canvass of absentee, military, special and affidavit ballots at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall on June 28. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

With all races, the Board of Elections canvasses the ballots by assembly district. That rule applies to all contests, including City Council districts — though in many cases a City Council district includes parts of several assembly districts.

Counting took place in the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall, with several tables set up for poll workers and observers. There were two poll workers per table who were separated by plexiglass from about three to six onlookers, mostly candidates and volunteers. There were about five dozen observers.

The poll workers held up ballots and showed the front and back to the observers, before checking off a vote next to the respective candidate’s name on a notepad.

Campaign watchers observe the canvass of absentee, military, special and affidavit ballots at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall on June 28. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)
Campaign watchers observe the canvass of absentee, military, special and affidavit ballots at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall on June 28. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Ballots that were waiting to be counted were stored in blue plastic containers with the respective Assembly District number, and locked in about 10 steel safety crates, some of which were already empty.

Absentee, military, special and affidavit ballots are locked away securely at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall on June 28, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

QNS didn’t observe any objections nor complaints during the well-organized process around noon on Monday.

Several Queens races are too close to call and ranked-choice voting will be needed to decide the winners. 

The closely contested Queens borough president’s race has incumbent Donovan Richards holding a small lead over Elizabeth Crowley, the former District 30 councilwoman, as of 8 a.m. on Wednesday, June 23. According to unofficial results, Richards has secured 41.53 percent of the vote (64,814 votes), with Crowley right behind him at 40.20 percent of the vote (62,738 votes). Term-limited Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer followed in third place with 17.82 percent of the vote (27,813 votes).

Since no candidate received 50 percent of the vote, a ranked-choice voting count will be needed to determine the winner of the race after all absentee ballots are counted.

Campaign watchers observe the canvass of absentee, military, special and affidavit ballots at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall on June 28. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)
Campaign watchers observe the canvass of absentee, military, special and affidavit ballots at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall on June 28. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Beyond the Queens borough president race, absentee ballots for a handful of City Council districts were expected to be counted on Monday and continue onto Tuesday.

Democratic City Council districts 19, 20, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 29 and 32 had crowded races, with no candidate making it to 50 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, City Council districts 21, 24, 28, 30 and 31 had candidates who met the 50 percent threshold.

The BOE’s last day to receive an absentee ballot is Tuesday, June 29. The BOE will then release its first report of preliminary RCV results, round by round.

Preliminary RCV elimination rounds will be conducted and reports will be released every Tuesday until election is certified, according to the BOE.

Final election results can’t be certified until all ballots are counted. According to the BOE, a certification date will be scheduled after a state-mandated audit of central ballot scanners used during canvassing is set.

Additional reporting by Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden.

This story was updated on Tuesday, June 29 at 3 p.m.

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