NYC and Ranked Choice on Ballot

NYC Democracy produced a voter palm card to help guide voters in a ranked-choice voting scenario.

By Jim Ellis

June 22, 2021 — New York City Democrats go to the polls today to cast their ballots in the party’s mayoral primary as 13 candidates compete to succeed term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio (D). With voter registration figures giving Democrats an almost 7:1 advantage, there is little doubt that the eventual Democratic primary winner will win the mayoral general election on Nov. 2.

More, however, is on the ballot than just deciding which of the candidates will advance into the Autumn election. The Democrats are using a ranked choice voting system that has been tried in other places around the county, such as the state of Maine and 32 mostly local jurisdictions. With 13 candidates vying for the mayoral nomination, however, and at least four being within the margin of error in the most recent polling, this New York City race could be the system’s most significant test.

Ranked Choice Voting is an electoral procedure where voters rank the candidates in their order of preference. In this case, Democratic voters will record their first preference with the number 1, and then follow through individually with the remaining dozen.

The system works as follows: when the ballots are fully counted, assuming no one receives an outright majority, which is a virtual certainty with so many candidates in contention, the 13th-place finisher will be eliminated from further competition. Election officials will then locate all ballots where the last place finisher was chosen first. Those voters’ second choices are then recorded and added to the original count. This process continues until a top candidate reaches the 50 percent plateau.

Considering that New York City election officials took six weeks to determine a winner in Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s (D-Manhattan) 12th District congressional Democratic primary last year, for example, this complicated counting process could go on for some time before a winner is ultimately announced.

Pollsters attempted to gauge the voters’ ranked choice predilections in rather complicated questioning, and most estimated that the counting process would consume 10-12 rounds. Polling accuracy is unclear at this point because few research firms have attempted to measure the ranked choice system. Therefore, today’s race could have a wild card ending especially when voters go deep into their ratings.

Survey results suggest that a top tier of four candidates exist, those who consistently appear the most viable at the end of the ranked system. They are: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who usually comes out on top of the polling at the conclusion of the various rounds, former NYC Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, civil rights activist and attorney Maya Wiley, and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

Other competitive candidates are former US Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shaun Donovan, former Citigroup executive Raymond McGuire, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Adams is generally regarded as a slight favorite and has been endorsed by US Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), Gregory Meeks (D-Queens), Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Adriano Espaillat (D-Bronx), and Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), along with a slew of state and local officials. He also draws support from 13 labor unions and locals, and news organizations such as the New York Post, the Jewish Press, El Especialito, and the Queens Chronicle.

Garcia won the endorsement of several state legislators and prominent individuals, the League of Conservation Voters, two labor unions, the New York Times, and the New York Daily News.

Wiley is the far-left candidate, earning endorsements from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx), US Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-Yonkers), Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn), Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn), Katie Porter (D-CA), and a co-endorsement from Rep. Jeffries. She gains organizational support from Democracy for America, EMILY’s List, the Working Families Party, and a local from the Service Employees International Union.

Yang draws backing from Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) and a co-endorsement from Rep. Torres. He, like the others, brings public support from several state legislators and local officials in addition to the AAPI Victory Fund (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders), the Detectives Endowment Association, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, and the Queens Ledger publishers.

As one can see, the top-tier candidates all have wide-ranging support, and the outcome is forecast to be close. When, however, we will see who actually wins the ranked choice vote is anyone’s guess.

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