One of the many defects in the National Popular Vote interstate compact (NPV) is that it requires member states to accept at face value the vote totals submitted by every other state, even if those vote totals are inaccurate, and known to be inaccurate. As I’ve noted many times before, this is not a hypothetical concern. In the case of New York, in fact, they haven’t been accurate in at least four election cycles.
I wrote a while back about New York’s 2012 problem, when Hurricane Sandy prevented the state from counting every vote in time to include it on its Certificate of Ascertainment, which the NPV organization has long pointed to as the source for compact member states to obtain vote totals. The Empire State submitted its Certificate while about 415,000 votes remained to be counted, knowing that it didn’t matter because in New York President Obama was so far ahead of Mitt Romney that 415,000 missing votes couldn’t make a difference in who won that state. (Those votes were finally included in election results certified on December 29, weeks after the Electoral College had met.)
While 415,000 missing votes is the biggest inaccuracy by New York, the state has a tradition of providing wrong numbers on its Certificate of Ascertainment. In 2008 it reported results that were off by about 47,000 votes and in 2016 it was missing about 95,000 votes.
So of course I was curious to see if New York would, in 2020, continue its tradition. Lo and behold, for at least the fourth consecutive presidential election cycle, the numbers submitted by New York on its Certificate of Ascertainment were off, though this time only by 18,000 or so votes. The missing votes are a bit harder to spot this year because the vote totals on the Certificate of Ascertainment and the certified election results released by the state Board of Elections (BOE) are identical. In past years the Certificate was inaccurate while the numbers provided by the BOE were accurate, or at least far closer to accurate.
But the election totals for Suffolk County (eastern end of Long Island) included in New York’s certified results are off when compared to the county’s reported results. The state totals show the Biden/Harris ticket with exactly 368,000 votes, while Suffolk County reports 381,021. For Trump/Pence, the state reported 375,821 compared to 381,281 votes received according to the county. The total difference between what the state reported and what the county reported is 18,481.
As I understand it, what happened is that Suffolk had been reporting regular updates to the BOE throughout November and early December, but the last update (the missing 18,481 votes) was slow to come in. The BOE was annoyed at having to wait, so it went ahead and certified the statewide numbers with only the early, partial results in from Suffolk (knowing, as in 2012, that the missing votes wouldn’t make a difference). The final batch of votes from Suffolk came in a few hours later, but by then the Governor had already signed the Certificate of Ascertainment and sent it off to the National Archives, and the State Board of Elections hasn’t yet felt the need to go back and update its own certified results.
New York is hardly alone in making mistakes on the Certificates of Ascertainment or certified vote totals – I know that Indiana and Iowa have also had errors amounting to thousands of votes, though none rival the numbers of New York’s missing votes. These follies are a reminder to anyone considering NPV that the vote totals the compact tries to rely on to determine a national winner are unreliable, because they are not created for that purpose.