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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.

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