Confused about who to vote for? Maybe you shouldn’t have complained. If a ballot measure in Tuesday’s election passes, New York City will be added to the growing ranks of cities and states opting for ranked choice voting, or RCV for short, a system whereby votes will have to rank their first five choices. So if the proposal is accepted, voters will be choosing even more candidates, and ranking them in order of preference.
Some feel this makes voting more complicated. RCV elections, also popularly known as instant-runoff voting, or IRV, or even simply ranked voting, are a way of melding the primary and general election into one session of voting. Proponents claim that ranked choice voting is a fairer and more democratic way of voting. IRV is a clear contrast to plurality voting, the traditional system whereby the candidate with the most votes, wins.
Has RCV ever been attempted before?
Most New Yorkers may not know this, but the RCV system is not quite new. In fact, various places within the borders of the United states have already adopted the system, including populous cities such as San Francisco, California; Oakland, California; Berkeley, California; San Leandro, California; Takoma Park, Maryland; Basalt, Colorado; Telluride, Colorado; St. Paul, Minnesota; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Portland, Maine. The entire state of Maine has even adopted the system, and it will even be employed in the 2020 presidential election, as well as all other elections in the state, including governor and congressional elections.
In fact, the measure traces its history back to the early 1900s, as Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin all employed variations of this system in order to select participants in elections via primaries. These early implementations were all scrapped by 1930. In more recent times, RCV re-emerged first in Berkeley, California, back in 2005, during elections for mayor, auditor,and city council. In NYC, this system would only be used for general elections, but rather only primaries, and special elections, such as those where New Yorkers select their next mayor, city comptroller, public advocate, as well as borough presidents and City Council.
How does ranked choice voting work?
Candidates must receive a majority (50% plus 1) of first-choice votes, in order to be elected. If none of the people running for that specific office meet this criteria, then the elimination process begins. So, candidates aren’t seeking to seek an either/or slot of first place, but rather curry favor with voters, overall, as the logic of voting changes significantly. This ordinal voting system changes the way that participants in elections seek office. It’s no longer an all or nothing proposition; it’s most important to establish a favorable reputation, overall, than being selected as the first and only choice. Candidates must appeal to everyone, not just the narrow base of voters they had relied on in past elections that did not use RCV.
If any single candidate garners more than 50% (+1) of first-place votes, that person would be considered the winner of the election. However, if no candidate receives 50% (+1) of the vote, things get complicated. Firstly, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is stricken from the running. Next, the second-choice votes cast by citizens for the eliminated candidate are counted, as their first-choice ballot choices are eliminated. Is that the entirety of the process? Hardly. This continues, on and on, eliminating candidates, and taking the next-level-down choices of voters, until a single candidate received a majority of votes, combining their first-choice votes with second, and even third, fourth, and fifth-choice votes, as other candidates are eliminated.
Who supports instant-runoff voting?
Under this new system, it’s not just about knowing what “your favored man or woman” is proposing, if elected. Now, constituents must become aware of each and every platform, each and every candidate running for each position. “Voters hear from more candidates and candidates pay attention to a much broader selection of communities and opinions,” according to Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a 60,000 member nonpartisan “good government” organization, which claims that the voting system currently in place in NYC stifles voices of smaller communities and only takes the largest voting blocs into account. The organization deals with other concerns besides RCV, including gerrymandering issues, money and influence in elections, and far more. Their aim is to create a more transparent system of elections that more fairly represent everyone.
The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting NYC, Inc., as well as Action Now Initiative, both raised funds in the millions, in order to help push this proposal in New York City. Jonothan Soros, son of famed liberal billionaire George Soros, also contributed funds to help place this initiative on the ballot in the upcoming election. Presently, in some race,s if a candidate receives less than 40% of votes, a run-off election must be organized. Proponents claim this ballot measure, if passed, will save the confusion, time, and money needed for such endeavors.
The committee for ranked choice voting had this to say on the matter, “…Candidates who are opposed by a majority of voters can never win ranked choice voting elections. … Ranked choice voting levels the playing field for all candidates and encourages candidates to take their case directly to you with a focus on the issues…” Is this actually true? Will eliminated candidates necessarily be “opposed by a majority of voters” as claimed? There may, in fact, in instances where this situation does not obtain, and eliminated candidates are not opposed by a majority, but rather a far-less margin.
“All states and all congressional elections currently use winner-take-all rules that elevate district lines over voters…When combined with multi-winner districts electing at least three members, ranked-choice voting helps to make elections fairer and more reflective in every district. This ends the cycle of gerrymandering, and creates competitive elections in which every vote really counts.” FairVote, another advocacy group fighting for RCV, explained that there are certain longstanding issues that may be eliminated under such a reformed system.
Proponents claim that RCV is superior because plurality voting causes “vote splitting.” This causes minority rule, as two candidates placing in the two top slots with the most votes, if running on similar platforms, can cause similar-thinking voters to vote for both, causing a third candidate, without a majority of voters behind their platform, to win, as their vote is not split with another candidate running on a similar platform. This has already happened in presidential numerous times: Ross Perot, and other third-party candidates have split the vote before.
Are there any dissenting voices to ranked choice voting?
Invariably, voting will be more complex, and some feel, more confusing to the voter. California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom had this to say about ranked choice voting, “Where it has been implemented, I am concerned that it has often led to voter confusion, and that the promise that ranked-choice voting leads to greater democracy is not necessarily fulfilled,” as he vetoed the measure that would have expanded the process to include many more elections in his state.
New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus believe that this measure will favor White candidates. Candidates of color may find in more challenging to secure a majority, and therefore be eliminated, under the proposed system, although such candidates may have received the most votes. Only a candidate with a clear majority of votes can be declared winner, and so their is dissention, even among liberal voices, as to whether this will help, or harm, minority voices.
Louis Jacobson, senior correspondent at the fact-checking website PolitiFact, had this to say in a 2013 article for Governing, “…some say there may be value in having an actual final round of campaigning between two candidates. That way, voters can see the top two finishers directly battling each other for public support. These drawbacks have come into sharpest relief when second-place or even third-place finishers in the first round ended up winning the election…” This concept also extends to media coverage. Some argue that it will be more difficult for media outlets to cover elections, and quickly declare winners, if such changes are implemented.
“Ranked-choice proponents dislike [other types of] primaries, because fringe candidates can win, producing an unhappy choice in the general election. That sounds like the position of philosopher-kings who really don’t trust democracy and certainly want to see the end of political parties. If there’s something wrong with [other types of] primaries, find a way to get more people to vote. But don’t manipulate their voting.” These were the words of Gordon Weil, former Maine state agency head an municipal selectman, in his 2015 contribution to CentralMaine.com.
So what are the considerations?
Clearly, this new idea is not quite new. However, it’s popularity surely is. Will the results promised, that is, fairer elections, ever materialize? Or, is this just a promise that cannot possibly be an outcome of ranked choice voting schemes? Both proponents and opponents have some interesting arguments. However, we must consider fact, and whether each notion is rooted in mathematical certainty, or merely lofty notions.
The fact is, while gerrymandering can be countered with such measures, it’s also true that minority candidates may suffer if ranked-choice voting were implemented. Should there be a threshold of 50% (+1) in order to win? Consider that some elected positions already require 40% of votes. Would this measure, if approved, introduce a fairer system, or just more confusion? Would voters merely check off their second, third, fourth, and fifth choice candidates blindly, just so they can cast their ballot? Is it even reasonable that voters should have contingency choices in all cases? Is it unreasonable to ask voters to rank candidates in this way?
Is it far too difficult a task, even, for an ordinary voter not enmeshed in the political game? These are all ideas that must be considered, as a change so significant as this can drastically alter the landscape of our political scene. And of course, is it more, or less, democratic to have a system, rather than a simple winner-takes-all election? These questions, and others, should have been amply addressed by political experts, community leaders, and others, before November 5th, however, for the most part, this did not happen, to any significant extent.
Now think about this: If there are MORE candidates, rather than fewer, mathematically, it’s more than likely that votes will be split.
This will let those that place in the third and fourth slots, in terms of votes, will win more often.
This is downright un-American!
One vote for each citizen.
I wonder about this. Is it going to br that you put your first choice SECOND or THIRD, because you think he won’t get the first slot?
Is voting going to become like a casino strategy game for voters?
Is this really happening?!?!
Why don’t they do something like this:
If no candidate gets 51% of votes, re-count all votes INCLUDING second-place choices. And maybe third, fourth and fifth as well?
Then, the candidate with the highest “score”, the most points, wins.
First choice votes could be scored as 1 point.
Second choice votes could be scored as .8 point.
Third choice votes could be worth .6
And fifth choice could be worth .2 point.
There are other ways of dealing with the data acquired when we are asked to rank candidates.
My system seems fairer, and will not eliminate the top prospects just to wind up with a mediocre candidate that isn’t really well-supported.