With awareness of ranked choice voting (RCV) skyrocketing after successful implementation in Maine, cities and states across the country are weighing potential adoption of the system. Among these, New York City stands out for its sheer size and demographic, political, and cultural significance.
The 2019 New York City Charter Commission, tasked with revising and updating the city’s laws, is considering implementing RCV in citywide municipal elections. If the Charter Commission officially recommends the policy, voters will be able to to vote directly for the initiative on the November ballot. If ratified, New York City would be the largest municipality in America to adopt RCV.
Among the city leaders who have supported RCV are former Public Advocate (and current state Attorney General) Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Councilmember Brad Lander.
In fact, the New York City Council, in its report to the Charter Commission, directly endorsed RCV, noting the high cost and low turnout of the city’s current two-election runoff system.
The report mentions the potential positive effect of RCV on campaign rhetoric:
“Because voters are able to vote for all the candidates they support—rather than against the candidate they oppose the most—candidates do best in elections when they reach out positively to as many voters as possible, including those who may be more likely to support their opponents. The Rutgers-Eagleton Institute of Politics polls referenced above found that this effect on elections results in less negative campaigning and more satisfied voters.”
FairVote President and CEO Rob Richie also touted RCV in detailed testimony to the Charter Commission. In his testimony, Richie articulated the myriad benefits associated with RCV:
“The key benefit of RCV is a better democracy that will bring more voters to the polls and give their votes more power, but on top of that, it also saves money… and empowers historically underrepresented communities.”
RCV is not unfamiliar to the city; in fact, from 1936 through 1947, City Council members were elected through multi-winner RCV. In addition, until 2002, the city used RCV in its school board elections.
However, the current state of New York City elections—illustrated by a crowded special election race for NYC Public Advocate—has provided the impetus for the city’s desire to re-implement ranked choice voting.
Although the public advocate’s budget is just $3 million (an amount eclipsed by the amount spent on its election, which topped $13 million in 2013), public advocates retain a strong bully pulpit and and are next-in-line to succeed the mayor. Given those facts, it is imperative that any candidate elected public advocate obtains the support of the majority of the electorate; however, it is conceivable that a candidate could win with less than a quarter of the vote.
To learn more about FairVote’s efforts in New York City, check out this video.
Illustration by Mikhaila Markham