When Ranked-Choice Voting Comes to New York City, Expect More Voter Participation, Not Radical Changes

Voters won’t have to worry as much about having to choose between similar candidates or “throwing away” votes on third-party choices.


New York City residents voted overwhelmingly last night to approve ranked-choice voting for many local elections, making it the largest community in the United States to make this shift away from winner-take-all elections. More than 73 percent of voters said yes to the change.

But New York is not the first city to implement ranked-choice, and it's worth taking note of how it's playing out elsewhere. San Francisco uses ranked-choice voting in many local races, and right now it might be about to impact the results of the city's district attorney election.

In a ranked-choice election, voters are asked to rank candidates in order of their preference rather than simply choosing the one they most want to see win. If a single candidate gets a majority of the votes, that candidate wins, just like in more traditional voting systems. If the candidate only gets a plurality of the vote in a race with more than two candidates, that's when the ranking system kicks in. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated from the race, then the votes are retabulated. For any ballot that selected the eliminated candidate as the first choice, their second choice is used instead. The votes are recounted and then, once again, the results mandate that somebody get a majority—not just a plurality—of the votes to be named the winner. Depending on the number of races, it can take several tallies before a winner is determined.

San Francisco voters are electing a new district attorney. Incumbent D.A. George Gascón has vacated the position to run for D.A. in Los Angeles County. There's a four-way race to replace him. After the first round of votes last night, Chesa Boudin, a defense attorney big on reforms (he's played a major role in state efforts to eliminate cash bail) was in the lead over interim D.A. Suzy Loftus. Boudin was ahead of Loftus 32.9 percent to 30.9 percent. Under ranked-choice rules, because that's not a majority, Boudin is not yet the winner of the race.

When the votes were retabulated after eliminating candidates Leif Dautch and Nancy Tung, it seems more of the voters who supported Dautch and Tung favored Loftus over Boudin. The current tally has Loftus ahead 50.13 percent to 49.87 percent. If those numbers hold, Loftus has the majority required to be named the winner. There are still mail-in ballots to count, so the race is still too close to call.

But in the end, ranked-choice voting might yank Boudin's victory away. This is a feature, not a bug. And it's honestly not that different from having runoff elections that could have resulted in the same outcome. But ranked-choice voting puts it all together in one election, saving time and money and encouraging voter participation. It helps avoid the problem of vote-splitting in races with candidates with similar positions. It allows third-party candidates to run for office without being seen (often incorrectly) as spoilers. FairVote, the nonpartisan organization pushing for the adoption of ranked-choice voting, notes that turnout often plunges in local elections that have a primary with many candidates and then a runoff between the top contenders. Ranked-choice voting allows for it all to happen at once.

All of which is to say that ranked-choice voting won't necessarily result in certain types of election outcomes. Fox News' coverage of New York's vote emphasizes that uber-progressive Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and presidential candidate Andrew Yang support ranked-choice voting. But in San Francisco, the rankings are actually pulling in favor of the more centrist choice—Loftus is promising a focus on fighting property crimes and is creating a special team to target car burglaries. Don't assume that ranked-choice voting is necessarily going to pull election results in radical directions.

More from Reason on ranked-choice voting here and here.

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  1. So keep counting votes until the desired result is achieved?
    Kooks like the result is the candidate that gets the most votes can lose.
    #onemanmanyvotes ?

    1. OK, that is really a typo, but it also fits

      Kooks = Looks

      (just for the record, edit by reply is a terrible idea)

    2. result is the candidate that gets the most votes can lose

      Only if you consider only the top choice as a vote. You could also look at it as people getting more than one vote.

    3. “Look at me, I’m too stupid to consider an alternative that results in a mathematically-provable, objectively better expression of preference! Please continue the current form of ritual prostration before the state, I LOVE its results. And remember: if you have to learn something new, it’s just too plain kooky!”

      1. Yeah, idk. Ranked choice voting is objectively better on all counts. I think this is just the common internet phenomenon of trolling.

  2. Anything other that FPTP is for losers. Democracy and elections are about ideas; mixed vote, pro rep etc reward third and fourth rate hacks with access to power and money.

    1. “pro rep etc reward third and fourth rate hacks with access to power and money.”

      Hmm…so, like the system most jurisdictions have now?

  3. LMAO.

    When your argument is “Hey look how well it works in San Francisco”

    1. San Fransisco is actually exactly the sort of place where ranked choice is likely to have the least impact, but it is another large city that has a limited form of it. When there aren’t many examples to choose from, there aren’t many good examples either. Cut Scott some slack.

      1. 2010, Oakland CA. Jean Quan came in third after the first-place votes were counted, but “won” based on the Ranked Choice process.
        She was a terrible mayor and lost her next election.
        If you think some people do a “throw away” vote, when they have only one, you can be sure those second and third choices will be even more of a “throw away”.

  4. Does it include a none of the above option?

    1. We call that “Not voting”.

      1. not even close to the same

  5. This will work very well to ensure that the vote is choosing the most popular Democrat, as it does in San Francisco. Winner take all at least presents a Republican or Green Party candidate on the final ballot, and the period up to this ballot grants their views at least some media coverage.
    This way, now New Yorkers will never have to listen to anyone the local media discounts.

    1. This will work very well to ensure that the vote is choosing the most popular Democrat

      The most powerful party in the area can run multiple candidates to ensure a win, unless there’s a one-candidate-per-party rule, which of course there isn’t.

      1. You don’t understand how it works if you think running multiple same-party candidates improves the party’s odds.

        1. How so? Let’s say there are 3 people from the same party running with very similar views in a race with 5 or 6 candidates. If those 3 people are chosen as a mix of people’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choices, then one of them is going to win and the party has the seat.

          1. If the same party always wins anyway, what difference does it make? I would think more choices that actually have a chance of winning would be a good thing. In a lot of very blue cities, the general election is a joke because the Democrat always wins.
            It’s complicated and I don’t claim to know how it would play out with any certainty, but it seems like the party apparatus of the dominant party could lose some control over what candidates with what views can run in a system where party primaries are less important as well.

      2. To elaborate, in an area in which a single party is very likely to have the winning candidate, that primary effect of the strategy would be to increase the odds that the elected person is more moderate/appealing to other parties than the counterfactual single nominee.

        1. And? The party still gets the seat.

          1. But they get that seat now with FPTP voting.

          2. They would’ve gotten it anyway. Now people who don’t vote for the party as their first choice (which means, don’t vote for them at all under FPTP) can influence the outcome of the election, rather than being irrelevant. Ranked choice always provides at worst the same level of representation as FPTP, but for any realistic scenarios it returns a far more representative result.

            1. I think it will add less misleading information to the discussion.

              Currently you choose R or D and swallow the entire winning platform of the successful team. All we know is that your chose R or D and not nuances like you are pro-abortion AND pro gun.

              But when we can see the second and third choices, it would become clearer what policies/direction the electorate would prefer. That is of course, only if you believe that whoever is counting and reporting the votes is an honest broker.

  6. Chesa Boudin

    Sounds delicious.

  7. But in the end, ranked-choice voting might yank Boudin’s victory away.

    What victory?

  8. Wikipedia’s page on Chesa Boudin notes that he was the son of convicted Weather(wo)man killers and was raised by…wait for it…Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.

    And he didn’t seem to have mounted any adolescent rebellion against the values of his parents and guardians. On the contrary, he was a translator for Hugo Chavez.

    It’s telling that he’s running *against* the candidate who wants more property-criminals arrested – why would he want to punish socialists-in-training who expropriate some bourgeois property?

    1. Mother Jones asks if he’s radical enough:

      “While the right might call Boudin a socialist or a communist or a radical, his politics fall comfortably in line with the progressive wing of the Democratic party, and he’s racked up endorsements from grassroots progressive groups, Democratic city supervisors including Aaron Peskin and Hillary Ronen, and civil rights icons and activists like Angela Davis and Shaun King. His message is this: end cash bail; close juvenile hall and County Jail No. 4, the top floor of the seismically unsound Hall of Justice, where about 75 percent of those incarcerated suffer from mental health issues or substance abuse; stop the criminalization of homelessness and mental illness; prosecute “bad cops”; and rather than clog the court system with smaller, victimless crimes, focus resources and scheduling on prosecuting the most egregious ones. It’s a radical message only by the standards of the office. The conversation about criminal justice has shifted to such an extent that several of his opponents have laid claim to difference pieces of his platform.”

      1. Alternative view from Michelle Malkin:

        “Now Boudin wants to avenge his cop-killing parents by imposing “restorative justice” and “decarceration” policies that will incentivize violent crime and endanger lives in San Francisco and beyond. If you think California is on fire now, just wait until this red diaper baby takes control of the prosecutorial wheel.”

        1. (and let’s face it, it’s hard to beat that last mixed metaphor)

          1. Who doesn’t want a communist infant driving California’s fire engine?

  9. “When Ranked-Choice Voting Comes to New York City, Expect More Voter Participation, Not Radical Changes.”

    Uh, actually, no.
    Expect more voter fraud so the socialist indoctrination camps in NYC to stay open, waste more of the New Yorkers’ money and fulfill their mission to keep the children of the masses happy, illiterate and open to really stupid ideas like socialism.

    1. Why do you think more voter fraud? Seems like they have it pretty well dialed in (assuming that’s part of how the city is so dominated by Ds) already.

  10. By taking into account the votes previously assigned to the lowest scoring candidate, you’re ensuring that it’s the kook votes that are taken into account first. Won’t it be great when it’s the Neo-Nazi or Peoples Socialist Reunification and Child Love Party who’s voters get you over the line.

    1. Well, there’s more libertarians than there are actual fascists, so it’s more likely we’ll be the kooks that some candidates might alter their platform slightly to court.

      1. Nope, as Elizabeth Warren’s vote totals will prove

  11. Anything that lends elections artificial credibility is a step in the wrong direction. And I can see absolutely no reason why people would actually spend a nanosecond more ‘pondering’ their vote in a ranked-choice system than in a one-vote system

  12. Picking a name out of a hat would be more fair.

  13. Wait….is ranked choice even legal for federal elections? I get that States can pretty much do their own thing, but for federal elections, I don’t think it would survive constitutional muster, would it?

  14. So-called “ranked choice” is actually Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). I’ve been a student of “social choice” – voting science – for over 20 years. I wrote a white paper on it back in 2018 for the Indiana Senate Committee on Elections. Here are the main points: (1) Two priciples in democratic voting – majority decides and EVERY VOTE must count; (2) the only ranked voting system that satisfies those principles is the Instant Round Robin (IRR) system known as Condorcet; (3) IRV is demonstrably the worst of all ranked voting systems and should never be adopted because it THROWS VOTES AWAY.
    In my revised white paper (9 September 2019), I offer analysis of the Poliquin campaign’s attempt to enjoin the IRV count of the Congressional race. The plaintiff’s attorneys and the “expert” retained never made the correct arguments against IRV – moreover the expert didn’t understand the nasty IRV property of non-monotonicity. IRV’s discard algorithm can cause a candidate receiving more 1st place votes to lose or less 1st place votes to win. IRV is also almost certainly unconstitutional. Here’s what the judge in the Poliquin case had to say: “It is not surprising that our Court has held that this Article gives persons qualified to vote a constitutional right to vote and to have their votes counted.” No one on the plaintiff’s side mentioned the IRV discard algorithm. IRV is absolutely illegal in Indiana and likely in the majority of states that have “voter intent” laws. The intent of the voter – represented by the ranking information on the ballot – is thwarted by the discard algorithm. IRV is a dangerous non-reform.

  15. I also need to point out that the very well-funded people pushing IRV – – actually lie about how it works. A case in point is Commentary by David Daley, senior FairVote fellow, that appeared on RealClearPolitics 13 September 2019 (you can find it by searching). He says, “Ranked-choice voting (in at least some form) would allow Democrats to identify the consensus nominee, the candidate with the widest possible support and best chance to unify the party.” Clever. Condorcet/IRR is the ONLY ranked choice voting system that will find the “consensus nominee”. In Social Choice Theory, this is known as the Condorcet Winner. IRV DOES NOT DO THIS. Daley further confuses the issue by actually explaining, IN PART, how IRV works: “It works just like an instant runoff. The candidate at the bottom — in this case, Sanders — would be eliminated. The race would be down to two. The Sanders votes would be reallocated based on each voter’s second choice.” What is not mentioned is that every other vote for Sanders on ballots he was on as a lower choice is thrown away. Later, Daley says: “Warren also wins head to head against every member of the field, including Biden and Sanders.” Head to head is what Condorcet does. Daley is deliberately creating confusion about how IRV works. This deceptive and dishonest claim is also made on the webside, where it talks about head to head: You find more dishonesty on the Fairvote website, where it claims that Robert’s Rules recommends “ranked choice” (remember – they are actually talking about IRV). Actually, Robert’s Rules 11th edition (RR11), which refers to IRV as “preference voting” says, preferential voting is acceptable in an election by mail when only one vote may be taken but is “not a substitute for repeated balloting until a majority is obtained” (RR11, p426, L4-5). Moreover, it correctly observes that IRV should NOT be used because “candidate or proposition in last place is automatically eliminated and may thus be prevented from becoming a compromise choice” (RR11, p428, L24-26). The “compromise choice” would be the Condorcet Winner. Why do the FairVote people lie? They are so invested in the Australian voting system that they simply can’t accept even a vastly superior alternative. Personally, I think there is a PhD dissertation on mass movements and forms of cognitive bias in the saga or IRV. Please educate yourselves on this. We have a brief window to adopt true voting reform. My study of history suggests that by the time someone actually makes the arguments that IRV violates election law, it will be too late and courts will ratify it on the basis that so many states have adopted IRV that it can’t be overturned. Note: even this decision will be wrong. No need to change the ballot – just change the underlying algorithm. Judges and politicians are stupid so I’m pessimistic about valid reform winning out.

  16. With respect to retiredfire’s comment about Oakland, and so-called “ranked choice” – actually IRV – the unpleasant result could be a manifestation of non-monotonicity, which I discussed in one of my postings. However, it is worth considering that the “true majority” or Condorcet winner might have actually been this person. There is no guarantee that the majority will pick the best candidate. However, if there is any value to representative government, it has to be that most times the majority, exercising its judgement, will make a better choice than, say, an unelected bureaucracy or some sort of nomenklatura. The problem is when the mechanism of voting thwarts the majority. IRV will do that only slightly less than FPTP. BTW, if anyone wants to look into some of the problems with Australian voting (IRV and STV) look into how Australia deals with the problem of “preference truncation”. Also look into “donkey voting” and trading preferences. IRV is the worst of all ranked choice systems.

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