Only days ahead of a critical election to pick the mayor of New York amid unprecedented public health, economic and safety crises, voters are more confused than ever.

The deadly coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout make Tuesday’s mayoral contest one of the most consequential in a generation. But that urgency has collided with the rollout of a new system for the June 22 vote that asks residents to rank five candidates instead of picking just one.

Adding to the confusion is a change to the election calendar and an exceptionally large field fueled by a new public campaign financing system that has helped keep lesser-known candidates afloat.

Those changes—in addition to early voting and absentee ballot rules brought on by Covid-19—were intended to increase voter engagement and restore faith in the electoral system. Instead, they’ve added layers of complexity and uncertainty as a pandemic-ravaged city asks voters to make their choice in the dead of summer.

“If this were the September primaries as it has always been before, we would be having a different vibe,” said Rob Richie, chief executive of FairVote, a group that advocates for ranked-choice elections. “There would have been more time for engagement and maybe a little more time to define the race.”

With unemployment double the national average and the number of shootings up 73% in May from a year ago, the city is at an inflection point.

But only about 100,000 people have voted early so far in the Democratic primary, which is all but certain to decide the next mayor since Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-to-1 in the city. That’s a far cry from the 1.1 million New Yorkers who voted early in last November’s presidential race, when a charged electorate flocked to the polls during a second wave of the pandemic and a polarized debate over Donald Trump’s presidency.

Participation in local contests has always paled in comparison to presidential elections. But many organizers and political strategists had expected the momentum from November’s race to carry over to the fight for New York City mayor, which is often referred to as the second most difficult job in U.S. politics after the presidency.

Early voting wasn’t enacted in the state until 2019, so the last competitive New York mayoral race, in 2013, didn’t have it. That race drew more than 700,000 primary voters. There was also a limited number of absentee ballots in 2013—around 18,000—compared to the 200,000 ballots that were requested for this primary after rules were relaxed because of Covid.

“In the throes of Covid with no end in sight, I was anticipating we’d see a 30% jump in voters driven to the polls,” said political strategist George Fontas, who commissioned a series of polls throughout the race. “But we’re in a different place now.”

Fontas still expects turnout to surpass the election in 2013 due to population growth but said that voter confusion over ranked-choice voting and the number of candidates remains a real issue. Half of likely voters said they were undecided in a May 15-19 poll he commissioned from Core Decision Analytics. He didn’t conduct polling during the 2013 election, but a similar poll conducted a month out from the election by Marist found just 12% of likely voters said they were undecided.

Former sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang both trailed Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in an Emerson/Pix11 poll released Thursday, in which 23% of respondents said Adams would be their first choice. Civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley got 18% in the June 15-16 poll, Garcia got 17% and Yang got 14%. The margin of error in that poll was 3.6 percentage points, meaning it is very close at the top.

Part of the challenge for voters is the sheer number of candidates—13 Democrats and 2 Republicans—on primary ballots. The lists are so long they have jokingly been referred to as resembling lengthy CVS pharmacy receipts.

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