This is a special edition of Epicenter-NYC because these are special times and special elections loom.
If the events of this week on Capitol Hill outraged you, we implore you to pay attention to what’s happening in your own backyard. And to shift focus from election past to elections future — many, many of them. This will be the first of occasional single-focus newsletters on the upcoming races in New York City. As always, let us know what you want to see: [email protected].
We thought we could start by walking you through how to fill out your ballot. This year, for the first time ever, New Yorkers will vote by ranking their candidates.
We zoom in on District 24 in Queens (that’s Kew Gardens Hills, Briarwood, Utopia, Jamaica, Jamaica Estates, Fresh Meadows and Pomonok) to make understanding this a bit easier. The district votes in a special election on Feb. 2, the first using Ranked Choice Voting. There are subsequent elections in February and March that we will dive into later. Special elections suffer from low turnout so we’re trying to do our part to help you do yours!
What is Ranked Choice Voting?
Ranked Choice Voting, known as RCV, is a system of voting that identifies the candidate that is most preferred by all voters, as opposed to the candidate that simply received the most votes. In order to win, a candidate must receive the majority of votes, so 50% plus one. This is opposed to a plurality voting system — the system typically used in the United States — where each voter gets one vote, often resulting in candidates being elected withoutreceiving the majority of votes.
While RCV is new for us — New Yorkers voted to implement it in 2019 — it’s used around the country. Maine used it for the 2020 presidential election, and many cities, including San Francisco, Santa Fe and Minneapolis, use it for local elections. For now, RCV will only be used for special and primary elections in New York City.
How exactly does it work?
In New York City, RCV allows you to vote for up to five candidates, including one write-in. Candidates are listed on the ballot in the order that they registered their candidacy.
Once votes are tallied for voters’ first-choice candidates, if none of them received a majority of votes, the candidate that received the fewest votes is removed, and the people who voted for that candidate have their second choice vote spread among the remaining candidates. This process continues until a candidate receives a majority of the votes.
What are the benefits of RCV?
Besides the fact that RCV elects the candidate with the most support, unlike a plurality voting system, it does not lead to runoff elections, which are costly and generally have much lower voter turnout. It also discourages “attack style” campaigning, and encourages candidates to work together. For example, Candidate A could campaign to Candidate B’s supporters in an effort to be listed as their second choice.