Can New York City Build Consensus Through Ranked-Choice Voting This Summer?

New York City will choose its next mayor this June, and for the first time, the hotly contested (and mostly criticized) role will be chosen through ranked-choice voting. Can the City roll out an effective introduction to the process and will its voters relish in the method’s likely award of neutrality?

Image from NY1

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) simply is an alternative to the popular vote. Voters this summer will be asked to rank their chosen candidates in order of preference. Then when tallying the votes, if no candidate received more than 50% of the first-choice (popular) votes, the contest will move to an instant runoff. The candidate with the fewest votes is removed from the contest and the votes of those who ranked that removed candidate first, will then count towards the voter’s second-ranked choice. Now the candidate with the new lowest-vote total will be removed from the contest, and so on until a candidate reaches more than 50% of the vote.

Where ranked voting is currently used in the U.S. [Image from Fair Vote]

New York City adopted RCV in 2019 to be used in all city primary and special elections beginning in 2021. 11 other states have used and/or enacted ranked choice for local elections, three states for presidential elections, and several others for party elections, and military and oversees voting. Maine is the only state to utilize ranked choice for statewide and presidential elections.

In a contest where the leading candidate, Andrew Yang, only has 32% support amongst city Democratic voters, a ranked-choice vote could allow voters to hedge their support for a candidate instead of giving full support to only one individual. Also, the major asset of a ranked-choice vote is its ensuring that the candidate with the widest level of support — of all levels of passion and preference — will be victorious. This consensus or at least greater level of understanding is what the Democratic Party so desperately needs, especially in New York City.

In an era when there is a great importance placed on local election work and canvassing for the Democratic Party, RCV could be a revolutionary idea that unfortunately not enough voters are aware of nor understand the positives. According to ABC News 10, two-thirds of NYC voters are aware of the new system, but when broken out demographically, 46% of African American voters report having heard nothing about the new system, and 32% of Latino voters report having heard only a little.

With the majority of these communities of color throughout the city unaware of the RCV, the Party may be ostracizing important demographics on election day. Additionally, any confusion around RCV may result in increasing numbers of no-votes by registered voters and/or voters not ranking their choices on the ballot. News 10 reported that 29% of voters indicated that they would not rank any candidate as their second choice, which means that if a candidate does not receive more than 50% of the popular vote, those ballots would be discarded during an instant runoff and suspicions around voting and voting policies will continue and perhaps grow.

In addition to the political implementations of RCV, The Oscars began utilizing the process in 2015 for awarding the winner in the Best Picture category. Some have argued that RCV for this prize awards mediocrity by eliminating the more jarring, adventurous and bold films; a claim with which I would slightly agree, but simultaneously point out the other major diversity and awareness problems with The Academy and its voting pool rather than with the voting method. The claim is that since RCV, the plot and characters of Best Picture award winners resemble the voters themselves and are universally neutral instead of revolutionary and jarring.

This neutrality, normalcy and recognition of the voting population could be exactly what New York City voters are looking for in their next race. The country has had and continues to have a jarring political and personal life and perhaps a true, run-of-the-mill, base model Mayor can best unite the City.

Works Considered:

Andrew Yang leads NYC mayoral race Democratic primary field, NewsNation poll finds | News10

The Oscars’ messed-up voting process, explained | Vox

Ranked choice voting and other NYC mayoral election issues | News10

Ranked choice voting, explained | Politico PRO

Where ranked choice voting is used | Fair Vote

Music business student from Brooklyn whose chosen hill to die on is that the music industry needs to innovate through digital asset management & placemaking.