New York's Elections Disaster Will Help Fuel GOP's Restrictive Voting Laws

A serious error in counting the votes in the New York City mayor's race could help to fuel Republican efforts to introduce new restrictions on voting rights, political experts have told Newsweek.

The New York City Board of Elections (BOE) announced late on Tuesday that they had mistakenly included 135,000 test ballots in their first tabulation of ranked-choice votes in the Democratic mayoral primary.

The BOE was forced to retract results released earlier on Tuesday that showed Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams' lead narrowing to just two points over former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.

Some social media users linked the BOE error to unfounded claims about the 2020 presidential election, suggesting the mistake in New York could be framed as a justification for accusations of mass voter fraud.

While courts have repeatedly rejected those claims, former President Donald Trump and his allies have continued to push the idea that the election was "stolen."

The former president issued a statement on Wednesday clearly linking the two elections. His spokeswoman Liz Harrington shared his comments on Twitter.

"Just like in the 2020 Presidential Election, it was announced overnight in New York City that vast irregularities and mistakes were made and that Eric Adams, despite an almost insurmountable lead, may not win the race," Trump's statement said.

"The fact is, based on what has happened, nobody will ever know who really won. The Presidential Race was a Scam and a Hoax with numbers and results being found that are massive, shocking, and determinative. Watch the mess you are about to see in New York City, it will go on forever. They should close the books and do it all over again, the old-fashioned way, when we had results that were accurate and meaningful."

NEW! President Trump:

"Just like in the 2020 Presidential Election, it was announced overnight in New York City that vast irregularities and mistakes were made and that Eric Adams, despite an almost insurmountable lead, may not win the race..."

— Liz Harrington (@realLizUSA) June 30, 2021

Experts who spoke to Newsweek on Wednesday framed the incident in light of the BOE's difficulties but some saw potential fuel for Republicans' efforts to pass restrictive voting laws.

Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on U.S. Politics, told Newsweek the BOE's error would be used by the former president's supporters.

"There's little doubt that Trumpist Republicans will latch onto the debacle in the NYC mayoral contest to paint a broader picture of elections in the United States as in disarray," Gift said.

"Last night was a huge political gift to activists who have spent much of their time since last November smearing American elections as marred by widespread fraud, subject to improper oversight, and prone to manipulation.

"Even if that's unfair, and the problems were isolated and contained, the confusion will add fuel to the Republican agenda of advocating for more stringent voter laws that they see as helping them electorally."

"At a time when confidence in American elections is already shaken, thanks to Trump's 'big lie' it's hard not to see Republicans leaders leveraging this story to their political advantage," Gift said.

Mark Shanahan is a professor and head of the Department of Politics and International Relations at Reading University and the author of Eisenhower at the Dawn of the Space Age. He told Newsweek the problems in New York could play into Republican hands.

"The confused—and confusing—numbers coming from the Board of Elections are the result of cock-up, not conspiracy," Shanahan said. "It's a weak elections organization implementing a new system, and they got it wrong. Fortunately, the error was spotted relatively quickly and remedied. But it does little for New York's reputation for free and fair elections."

"The problem for the Democrats is that this will play into the post-2020 GOP narrative that across the country the election process is flawed and that remedial action needs to be taken to stop elections being stolen," he said.

"According to the Brennan Center for Justice, by June 21, 17 states had enacted 28 new voting laws in 2021. These are overwhelmingly Republican-controlled legislatures and the new laws effectively restrict access to the vote, particularly to poorer people, minorities—and essentially those more likely to vote Democrat. In a throwback to the back-end of Reconstruction, this is simply electoral gerrymandering without shifting physical boundaries," he said.

"A strong element of the GOP base fervently believe—or want to believe—that the 2020 presidential election was stolen," Shanahan went on. "While there is absolutely no evidence to uphold that view, such poor implementation of process as we've seen this week in the New York primary simply feeds the fake fire here. And every new doubt raised merely helps to chip away even further at democracy."

Edward Foley is director of Election Law at the Ohio State University, a program of the Moritz College of Law. He told Newsweek the incident in New York was a "very unfortunate mistake" but "it doesn't justify any change in policy."

"As long as final results are fully verified, the results should be accepted as valid. Obviously, the local officials need to conduct an internal review to determine how this kind of mistake could have happened and how to avoid it in the future," Foley said.

Foley drew a clear distinction between the genuine error in New York and false claims about the last presidential election.

"The 'Big Lie' is not based on the reality of the situation involving 2020," he said. "This mistake in no way would justify the 'Big Lie' claims that the 2020 presidential election was 'stolen' any more than anything else; the 'Big Lie' still remains entirely unjustified, as [former Attorney General William] Barr himself has said."

Steven Cohen, professor in the Practice of Public Affairs at Columbia University, took aim squarely at the Board of Elections.

"In an effort to suppress the vote, Republicans around the country have become convinced that their political opponents are trying to steal elections," Cohen said.

"The issue in New York City is not imaginary fraud, but well documented bipartisan, patronage riddled incompetence," he said. "The NYC Board of Elections proved their ineptitude once again by apparently being unable to perform the high-level mathematical task of addition. No one here thinks this is a partisan fraud, but everyone knows the BOE is the 'gang that couldn't shoot straight.'"

Newsweek has asked the New York City Board of Elections for comment.

Signs Direct New Yorkers to the Polls
Signs alert people to a voting site in Manhattan as voters head to the polls for the Democratic primary for mayor and other elected positions on June 22, 2021 in New York City. The city's Board of Elections was forced to retract results issued on Tuesday after finding a serious error. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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