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What You Need to Know About Ranked-choice Voting in New York City

Eliot Schiaparelli
The race for New York City Hall is a little bit more complicated this yearEliot Schiaparelli/News Break

New York City is implementing a new voting system for its June 22 mayoral primary that could either make the race really complicated, or it could even the playing field if implemented well. A A lot of information about ranked-choice voting has been released over the past couple of months. The city has been running a roughly $15 million dollar campaign to educate voters on the new system, advocacy groups for voters have been stepping up outreach, and publications from the New York Times to Bloomberg have created simulations of how voting will go with everything from colors to bagels.

So what is ranked-choice voting?

The idea of ranked-choice voting is that it creates an “instant runoff.” Voters ‘rank’ their top candidates from one to five so that they have a say even if their favorite candidate falls short.

What can you expect on election day?

On election day, and in early voting, New Yorkers will get a ballot with a grid of bubbles: names will run down the left side, including a write in option, and choices one through five across the top. Voters can still choose to only vote for one candidate by ranking them as their first choice. Some voters may use an automark machine to vote, in which case, they will be shown five different screens through which they can rank the candidates.

How does the ranking work?

Once all the votes are in they will be tallied. If one of the candidates wins a majority (more than 50%) they’ll win outright. Otherwise, the candidate with the lowest vote total will be eliminated, and anyone who voted for them will have their vote awarded to their second choice candidate. The process will be repeated until there are two candidates left. At that point, whichever candidate has the majority wins.

How could this affect the outcome?

This year’s Democratic mayoral primary is a crowded race with 13 Democratic candidates. Ranked-choice voting allows voters to cast ballots for their favorite candidates without worrying about their viability. In other experiments with ranked-choice voting, advocates say it’s given more diverse candidates a better chance because voters aren’t afraid to ‘waste’ their vote on someone without party or corporate backing.

Has this been done before?

Yes! Other cities and states in the U.S.— as well as other countries — have successfully implemented ranked-choice voting. San Francisco uses it in citywide elections, including mayoral, and Maine uses it statewide. New York has also already done it in smaller special elections for city council.

Why are we doing this?

New Yorkers voted for this change in a 2019 referendum. It will only take effect in citywide primary and special elections. That means on election day, you’ll use ranked-choice voting for the mayoral race as well as for comptroller, borough president, public advocate and city council.

What problems might this create?

Some people worry about “exhausted ballots.” That’s when a person didn’t rank either of the final two candidates. It’s possible that with such a crowded primary a decent portion of ballots could be exhausted.

Others are warning of long lines at the polls and confusion. Luckily, if there is confusion at the polls or at home on absentee ballots, voters will have the opportunity to fix their mistakes. If you accidentally rank two candidates the same, it will be caught when you go to scan your ballot. Absentee voters will also have until July 9 to ‘cure’ incorrectly marked ballots.

Finally, it may take awhile before official results are certified. Because it could be a close race and absentee ballots may arrive late or need to be cured. Official results might not come out until three weeks after the election. However, preliminary results will still be available on election night.

How is the city preparing voters?

The city has sent out mailers, held info sessions and created a website that explains how to vote.

All of this has been done with illustrations and in multiple languages. They also have practice opportunities and a video about how the system works.

I’m Ready! How do I vote?

You can vote absentee, early and in person June 12-20 and in person on Election Day, June 22.

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