Voices & Choices

Ranked choice voting could be a cure for New York’s contentious AG primary

Ranked choice voting could be a cure for New York’s contentious AG primary

Vote-splitting. Name calling. And possibly, a non-majoritarian outcome.

A litany of ailments have already begun to derail the Democratic race for New York Attorney General.

The four candidates who quickly jumped in after incumbent Eric Schneiderman’s resignation appeared promisingly diverse: the Cuomo-backed Letitia James, a public advocate for New York City; Cuomo’s 2014 challenger Zephyr Teachout; Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, New York’s first openly gay member of Congress; and Leecia Eve, who served as an advisor to Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden during their time as senators.

While James took a decisive lead over Eve in of the last major poll, both are expected to win support the black female voters - a key voting bloc in New York primaries. But vote-splitting between the two black female candidates in the race could give the win to Teachout, who received a big-name backing in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray.

Moreover, candidates have shown they’re not above negative campaigning to win over the 42 percent of voters still undecided as of the July poll. Teachout took the brunt of attacks during a debate Thursday but Maloney went after James in an interview with The Atlantic too.

Negative campaigning and vote-splitting fears will likely only intensify as the clock ticks down to the Sept. 13 primary.

Consider how ranked choice voting would cure these ailments.

Vote splitting would be off the table. James and Eve could even campaign together to win support from black women voters. Collaboration rather than criticism is a natural byproduct of ranked choice voting, since candidates have incentives to campaign positively in order to secure a second and third-choice support.

Ranked choice voting also clears the threat of a a low plurality win, as has happened in other multi-candidate primaries this year, protecting the majority rule foundations of our democracy.

While it’s too late to see this more democratic reform put to work on Sept. 13, New York can use this race as a learning opportunity for next time and adopt ranked choice voting.

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