It’s getting whispered on street-corners. It’s featured on the side of buses. It’s the talk of the town. Yes, the “it” is ranked choice voting (RCV), it’s an electoral system that is simultaneously transformative and eminently sensible, and it’s fate is now in New York City voters’ hands.
That’s because, starting this week with early voting and continuing through Election Day on November 5, New York City voters will cast ballots on five propositions--the first of which concerns the adoption of RCV in NYC’s primary and special elections.
Here’s a crash course on how #RankedChoiceVoting works. Vote #YesOn1 on Nov. 5th (or Oct. 26th for early voters!) to make sure NYC candidates earn their votes and pay attention to EVERY community. pic.twitter.com/FaFrBYa8Ng— Rank The Vote NYC (@RankTheVoteNYC) October 1, 2019
Rank the Vote NYC, a broad coalition of activists which includes New York City League of Women Voters, Common Cause New York and Represent US New York, are fighting for better governance, spearheading the campaign to urge New Yorkers to vote “Yes on 1.”
Why do we endorse a #YesOn1 this November 5? Because if it passes, we’ll be able to rank candidates in the 2021 NYC primaries, where 69% of City Council seats will be open and there could be a dozen candidates running in your district. Let’s vote to give people a choice. pic.twitter.com/JCUIZMB3se— LWVNYC (@LWVNYC) October 14, 2019
Major publications have also joined the push, endorsing RCV amid recognition of its multitude of potential benefits. The New York Times, the most prominent of these publications, published its lead editorial in favor of proposition one earlier this month. It calls RCV “a smart, tested reform that would make certain that New Yorkers elect candidates who have the support of a majority of voters” before noting, “Isn’t that how democracy is supposed to work?”
Other publications that have published glowing endorsements of RCV include the Daily News, Gotham Gazette, the Brooklyn Eagle, and City Limits. Their pieces tout a range of benefits of RCV, which include protecting majority rule in crowded fields, empowering previously-marginalized voices, eliminating costly runoffs used for citywide primaries, and incentivizing candidates to campaign beyond their core base of support and collaborate with -- rather than attack-- each other in the hopes of becoming backup choices for their competitors’ supporters.
Under an RCV system, voters feel free to choose the candidate they like best, second-best and onwards down the ballot without fear of vote splitting or “spoiling’ outcomes. And with the confidence that their choices truly matter comes greater incentive to participate, evidenced by the turnout increase many cities have experienced since adopting RCV.
The voting method was initially greenlighted for the November ballot by the NYC Charter Revision Commission, which grounded its 13-1 vote to recommend the amendment in a detailed 20 page final report. The many city leaders backing the proposal include three of FairVote’s 2019 “Champions of Democracy” -- Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and city councilor Brad Lander -- as well as City Council speaker Corey Johnson, State Assemblyman Walter Mosley, State Senator Liz Krueger, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Analysts have highlighted the remarkably diverse nature of those backing the campaign. A September Politico story noted, “The idea [of RCV] has attracted support from across the political spectrum, from pro-business groups to progressive activists who agree it would be good for democracy, even if they disagree about which way it will sway election.”
Brewer has been particularly effusive about the RCV’s potential to incentivize candidates to reach out beyond their base and talk to all voters, describing, in a WNYC interview, the new and improved mindset of potential candidates under an RCV system:
"You gotta get to all the districts, you gotta talk to everybody, and you gotta have a conversation. ‘If you don’t like me one, vote for me as number two.' And that’s how you have a conversation."
Ranked choice voting has long made sense in New York City, which features remarkable diversity that will benefit from candidates seeking to engage with a wider mix of voters. It’s been a FairVote reform priority for years, culminating with our push last year that helped set the stage for this year’s great progress. Our FairVote New York timeline summarizes that history.
Are you still curious about how the adoption of RCV would directly affect a NYC race? Let’s take a look at February’s special election for public advocate.
In the 16-candidate race for public advocate, roughly 400,000 of more than 4.6 million eligible voters participated--rendering turnout a meager 8.7 percent. Former city councilman Jumaane Williams (who has endorsed RCV) won with 33 percent of the vote, which means that, in effect, roughly 2.9 percent of New York’s voters directly supported Williams’ election.
RCV, by allowing voters to rank their candidates, will ensure a winner--even one in a 16 candidate race--that represents the preferences of most voters. Because voters know their voices will be heard, they have an incentive to show up to the polls--increasing turnout and reinvigorating our democracy.
We are glad to see activists and publications leading the charge to improve our electoral system--because it’s time to fix the system, and RCV is a reform New Yorkers deserve.