By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) -New vote totals released on Tuesday in New York City's Democratic mayoral contest sharply narrowed the lead for Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, leaving the outcome even more uncertain with thousands of absentee ballots still uncounted.
Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation chief, was in second place, while Maya Wiley, a former MSNBC analyst and civil rights lawyer, was in third.
Adams held a considerable lead on Election Day a week ago, based on the initial count of first-choice ballots from voters who cast ballots in person.
But for the first time, the mayoral election used a ranked-choice system, in which voters could rank up to five candidates in order of preference. Tuesday's tally was the first analysis of those choices.
The ranked-choice system operates as a series of instant runoffs. The candidate in last place is eliminated, and his or her votes are redistributed to voters' second choice. The process repeats until there are only two candidates remaining, and the one with a majority is declared the winner.
After 11 rounds of elimination, Adams was ahead of Garcia, 51% to 49%, with a margin of just under 16,000 votes among more than 700,000 total ballots.
Wiley was the final candidate eliminated; in the penultimate round, she trailed Garcia by fewer than 4,000 votes.
Tuesday's count, however, did not include any of the approximately 125,000 absentee ballots that have been received, which could easily alter the final results.
Elections officials plan to rerun the ranked-choice voting tabulation next week, this time with at least some absentee ballots included.
Last week, Adams had 32% of first-choice ballots, based on the incomplete results released on Election Day. Wiley was at 22%, and Garcia stood in third at 19%.
Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate, was in a distant fourth place and conceded the race on the night of the election.
The winner of the Democratic primary will be a heavy favorite in November's general election against Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels civilian patrol group. Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in the United States' most populous city by more than a six-to-one ratio.
The next mayor will oversee the city's arduous recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which has been marred by a sharp spike in shootings. The city is also confronting deep-seated issues such as a lack of affordable housing, homelessness and wealth inequality.
(Reporting by Joseph AxEditing by Colleen Jenkins, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)