With early voting underway in this month’s primary election, New Yorkers have the most opportunity yet to use the city’s new ranked-choice voting system. Although voting has begun, groups are continuing to do outreach to Haitian-American voters, in Creole in particular. 

Modest efforts took place earlier, but the bulk of the activity comes out of the city’s $15 million voter education campaign launched in late April.

With support from that campaign, DemocracyNYC has been running Creole ads about ranked-choice voting in multiple publications, including Haiti Liberte, Haiti Observateur, and the Caribbean Times, according to Laura Wood, chief democracy officer at DemocracyNYC. It also plans to run ads in additional publications and on social networks like Facebook and Instagram, she said. 

“Our outreach team has been on the ground at more than 72 events working with 206 volunteers,” Wood said in a June 10 interview. “So far, Haitian Creole speakers have already seen our ads on social media more than 60,000 times and we project they will see our website banner images 300,000 times.”

The group has advertised on Radio Soleil, which Wood expects will reach Creole-speaking listeners more than 150 times during their campaign. In addition, DemocracyNYC has distributed printed infographics, palm cards and flyers to partner organizations to share with the public. It also created a sample tool ballot in Creole for voters to familiarize themselves with how the system works. 

Meanwhile, the New York City Campaign Finance Board made available a Haitian Creole explainer page. The agency plans to hold a ranked-choice voting workshop in Creole on June 17 in collaboration with the New York Public Library.

A primer on ranked choice voting

In primary and special elections, voters must rank their top five candidates for such municipal races as mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president and city councilmember. 

In ranked-choice voting, if a candidate wins more than 50 percent of first-choice votes, that person is the winner outright. However, if no candidate wins the majority of first-preference votes, the candidate who receives the lowest amount of first-choice votes is eliminated. 

If a voter’s first-choice is eliminated, their vote then goes to their second-choice candidate. The votes are counted in this manner, with the last-place candidate in each round eliminated. The tabulation continues until only two candidates remain, with the winner in the last round receiving a majority of the votes, according to Matthew Sollars of the Campaign Finance Board. 

Prior to the city’s education launch, Rank the Vote NYC had begun outreach to Creole speakers. In March, it organized a ranked-choice voting workshop in Creole in collaboration with District 45 Councilmember Farah Louis. They trained 11 local organizations about the new voting system and gave them educational materials to distribute to their clients. 

“We see a lot of changes happening in the city to provide services to Creole-speaking residents, but outreach is still not what it should be,” said Debbie Louis, lead organizer for citywide Haitian Creole efforts at Rank the Vote NYC, in a May 12 interview. “There’s a huge language barrier, and we still need to dig a little deeper because the Haitian voting bloc is really large.”

Louis also said more grassroots outreach is particularly ideal. 

She did not respond to follow-up requests for further comment about the number of Creole-speaking voters Rank the Vote NYC aims to reach citywide and its progress against that goal to date.

“To help people have a better understanding and participation in the voting process, it’s best to do it in their language,” said Jackson Rockingster, who attended the Rank the Vote training with his organization HABNET. “In areas where you have a high concentration of Haitian-Americans, it is much more welcoming to interpret the documents and signs in Creole.”

In a May 11 interview, Rockingster said he also has a large group working with Little Haiti BK to reach out to educate Creole-speaking residents about the ranked-choice process. On June 9, he declined to comment about the outreach completed to date and which campaign was funding his efforts. 

Overcoming barriers with everyday examples

Another organization doing extensive education is the New York Immigration Coalition, which has researched the attitudes of immigrant voters toward the new system. 

Wennie Chin, Director of Civic Engagement at the NYIC, said that the biggest concern voters had about ranked-choice voting was if there would be help if they were to make a mistake at the polls, such as bubbling in the wrong candidate. Other issues included understanding the logistics of the ranked-choice voting process.

“A lot of people don’t totally understand that it doesn’t hurt your first-choice candidate to rank other candidates and if you rank multiple candidates, you effectively have more of a voice in the election,” said Wood. “That’s something that I think a lot of New Yorkers still haven’t quite grasped.”

All organizations use the strategy of presenting simple examples of daily life decisions to explain the ranked-choice voting process.

In her training, Louis used the analogy of purchasing milk in the grocery store. She asked the question of whether people would still buy a milk they liked even if their favorite milk was out of stock, as opposed to not choosing any milk at all.

Chin employed the example of ranking schools for children, pointing out that people have to choose which high school and colleges to attend. She emphasized that ranked-choice voting bolsters candidate outreach, as they effectively have to work harder to show why they should be a voter’s number one choice.

“This system shifts how candidates think about voters to make sure they will be the number one choice out of the top five,” said Chin. “That’s something they’ve never experienced in the past because candidates are now wanting to knock on their door and talk to them more deeply.”

Larisa Karr

Larisa is a reporter for The Haitian Times covering politics, elections and education primarily. A graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, she has interned at CNBC and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. Larisa can be reached by email at larisa@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @larisakarr.

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