When hipster protest candidate Christopher X. Brodeur picked up 3.5% of the vote in last month’s Democratic primary, there was much mirth at the expense of City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, whom Brodeur actually beat in the Bronx.
And there were some theories floated to explain Brodeur’s success: His name makes him sound Haitian; his name makes him sound like a Black Muslim; he has a higher profile than we’d realized.
Brodeur declared amused victory: “You may have heard that I was responsible for the biggest upset in political history,” he wrote in L Magazine after the election, adding, “I’ve never visited the Bronx in my life!”
But a closer look at the numbers suggest we owe Miller an apology, and that the Board of Elections owes us an explanation. The result seems to have less to do with Brodeur than with the mechanics of New York’s creaky old voting system and voters’ interactions with it. And, ironically, the protest candidate does seem to have demonstrated deep flaws in the city’s political system, if not the same ones he spent his campaign denouncing.
The returns show a striking correlation between Brodeur’s votes and Freddy’s. In Assembly Districts where Ferrer romped, Brodeur picked up as much as 10% of the vote. In areas where Ferrer was badly beaten, Brodeur hardly showed up.
(A statistical analysis of preliminary data at the finest, election-district by election-district, level, done for The Politicker by CUNY’s John Mollenkopf, showed a .229 correlation between Brodeur’s votes and Freddy’s, which Mollenkopf called “strong”. (That’s .229 on a scale of -1 to 1.))
Brodeur, astonishingly, won more than 10% of the vote in three election districts, all heavily Hispanic and all among Ferrer’s very strongest:
In the 84th Assembly District in the South Bronx, which is represented by Carmen Arroyo, Ferrer won 72.4% of the vote; Brodeur won 11.2%.
In the nearby 86th district, represented by Luis Diaz , Ferrer won 72.4%; Brodeur won 10.5%.
And in Adriano Espaillat‘s 72nd district in Washington Heights, represented by, Ferrer won 66.9%; Brodeur won 10.4%
Meanwhile, Freddy’s worst districts were also Brodeur’s worst. Out in the 26th AD in white Northeast Queens, Freddy picked up a scant 21% of the vote, and Brodeur came in with 0.8%.
How do we explain this? It’s very hard to imagine that 10% of the people in overwhelmingly Hispanic Bronx neighborhoods decided to vote for a guy they’d never heard of.
The simplest answer is the design of the ballot. Candidates names appear in alphabetical order, with the first position rotating in each election district. (That is: In one district the order would be Brodeur, Ferrer, Fields, Miller, Piccolo, Weiner; in the next it would be Weiner, Brodeur, Ferrer, Fields, Miller, Piccolo.)
That means Brodeur’s name appeared on the ballot next to Freddy’s in most districts, because they’re next to each other in alphabetical order. So the simplest explanation is that most of the Brodeur votes are errant Ferrer votes.
That’s a strong explanation, but a partial one. Brodeur appeared on the ballot in most places between Ferrer and Weiner. The other obscure candidate, Arthur Piccolo, appeared between Miller and Weiner. Brodeur wound up with more than 8.6% of the combined vote of his neighbors on the ballot. Piccolo got 4.1% of his neighbors’ vote.
So perhaps there’s another factor at work there — those misled Haitians, or black Muslims — though there’s no evidence Brodeur performed better in, say, Flatbush.
More likely, this is striking evidence of something civil rights advocates have long argued: that poor, less-educated voters are relatively less likely to get their votes counted. Who takes the blame for this is an interesting question for another day, and one that people are often squeamish of discussing, because of the possibility that poorer, less-educated voters are more likely to err.
But the evidence suggests that thousands of Hispanic New Yorkers lost their votes, and that what should have been Freddy’s convincing primary victory turned into a squeaker, and was cast under an unnecessary shadow as a result.