NYC Voters Have the Chance to Improve Their Voting Process

Panorama of the New York City skyline
Manhattan, New York City. Photo by AngMoKio via Creative Commons.

New York City voters will have the opportunity to approve ranked choice voting (“RCV”) on their November 2019 ballot via Ballot Question 1. If they chose to do so, voters would have the choice to rank up to five candidates in primary and special elections for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and city council beginning in January 2021.

As The New York Times Editorial Board said in an endorsement of the initiative: “When it comes to electing politicians, New Yorkers are in the same bind as most of the rest of the country – voters can choose only one, no matter how much they like him or her, or how many other candidates are on the ballot. The good news is that there’s a solution, in the form of Ballot Question 1 in this year’s New York City elections, […] that solution is called ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting.” 

RCV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference when marking their ballots, and provides for additional rounds of tabulating votes where no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes in the initial count of ballots.

In each successive round, the candidate receiving the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and ballots cast for that candidate are re-allocated to each voter’s next choice candidate, until one candidate receives a majority of the votes cast. 

A graphic with arrows explaining the different steps of ranked choice voting

RCV ensures that no candidate running for single-winner offices can be elected without winning the support of over 50% of the votes cast, which requires candidates to attract a broad coalition of voters, while providing voters with more influence and opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, and fostering greater civility and less negative campaigning.

Candidates must not only win over their base voters, but also ensure they do not alienate supporters of other candidates, who might list them as a second or third choice. As a result, candidates in ranked choice systems are more likely than candidates in traditional plurality systems to reach out and engage with voters directly.

RCV also encourages a greater number of candidates with more diverse backgrounds and views to run for office, by reducing the impact of vote splitting and allowing voters to express political preferences without fear of “wasting” their vote.

RCV is straightforward and easy to understand, as seen in the high levels of understanding and satisfaction held by voters in jurisdictions with RCV. By implementing ranked choice voting, New York City can better ensure that every vote will count in their elections, and enhance voter choice by giving voters the chance to express preferences for more than one candidate.

In 2018, Campaign Legal Center released an issue brief on the civic benefits of ranked choice voting, read more here.

Watch our video on RCV.


This post was written by Sheely Edwards, a 2019 CLC Hinckley intern, and student at the University of Utah.