New York City

Ranked Choice Voting Gets Biggest Test Yet in New York City

Democrats have 13 choices in the mayoral primary. They get to rank their top five.


New York City's raucous mayoral primary today will be the country's most prominent test of ranked choice voting. How it all works out may make the case for wider adoption.

Democratic Party voters have 13 mayoral candidates on their ballots. They don't have to select just one to face off against Republican and third-party candidates in the November general election; they can choose and rank up to five candidates in order of preference.

With ranked choice voting, it's not enough for the top candidate to get a plurality of the votes. He or she must have a majority in order to be declared a winner. When the votes are first tallied, if no candidate has crossed the 50 percent threshold, a winner is not declared. Instead, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. Then the votes are tallied again. For each voter who ranked the eliminated candidate as their top choice, their second choice is now counted as their vote. If that's still not enough for a single candidate to pass 50 percent, the elimination and retabulation continues. When one candidate is able to lay claim to at least 50 percent of the votes, that candidate is named the winner.

With 13 candidates splitting up all the votes, this can get super complicated, and it may be weeks before the actual winner is determined. As it is, the city's Board of Elections will not begin tabulating the ranked choices until next week, so unless one candidate gets 50 percent of the vote tonight (which seems extremely unlikely), New Yorkers are in for a wait.

The politics of these elections change a bit when ranked choice voting is used, encouraging alliances between candidates in the hopes that voters will rank them first and second, increasing both of their chances of winning as other candidates are eliminated. This happened in San Francisco, which also has ranked choice voting for mayoral elections, when two candidates teamed up in 2018 in the hopes that one of them would overtake London Breed. They were unsuccessful and Breed ended up winning anyway.

In New York City, candidates Andrew Yang and Kathryn Garcia have been campaigning together in the hopes voters will rank them together and push current front-runner Eric Adams down the ballots. As Reason's Matt Welch noted yesterday, this provoked a rather strange response from Adams that their politicking is a form of "voter suppression," the idea being that ranked choice voting is somehow a mechanism for deemphasizing the power of black voters.

That's an absurd—almost backward—reading of what happens when ranked choice voting is used. The end result in San Francisco was that a black woman became mayor! Fellow candidate Maya Wiley blasted Adams' argument in a statement, saying that "using racism charges to undermine confidence in ranked choice voting is cynical, self-interested, and dangerous." She continued:

Ranked Choice Voting protects the voice of Black and brown voters. Studies have shown that Ranked Choice Voting has a positive impact on candidates or voters of color. Here in New York City, Ranked Choice Voting will prevent a run-off election, which would see significant drop off, especially in communities of color.

Ranked Choice Voting—or alliances formed from it—is not voter suppression, it's not a poll tax and to compare it to that denigrates the work of so many who have come before us.

In May, FairVote, a nonprofit organization that promotes ranked choice voting, produced a study showing that minority candidates actually benefit from the system, and found that black and Latino candidates found their vote totals growing between tabulation rounds at a higher rate than white candidates. When voters aren't forced to choose just one candidate, they're more likely to cross racial and ethnic lines when ranking candidates.

Ranked choice voting also benefits candidates from third parties because voters don't have to "throw their vote away" to select a Libertarian or Green Party candidate.

That's not important for this primary, but it does also allow for a diversity of candidate positions within a single dominant party. It's extremely likely that whoever wins the Democratic primary in New York City is going to be the next mayor. Ranked choice voting allows the city's Democrats to better shape what kind of Democrat is going to lead.

NEXT: Tim Wu, Biden’s New Tech Guru, Is Deeply Wrong About What Makes the Internet Great

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. >>How it all works out may make the case for wider adoption.

    are you rooting for this?

    1. Yes, Reason’s editorial bent is that it’s better for democracy.

      My argument has been that it will make political districts which lean a particular direction, lean harder in that direction.

      1. how can it not?

        1. Because extremists will have their extremist candidate ranked first, but a less extremist candidate ranked second. Meaning in a polarized election where the extremes can’t grab a majority, the less-than-extremes will make more headway.

          It’s why the Democrats selected a sleepy candidate over the far more extreme and rancorous Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Because party convention voting tends to be a kind of ranked voting. Hate Biden all you want, but he was still better than Warren and Sanders.

          It’s also how the Republicans ended up with McCain and Romney in the past. The least objectionable tends to prevail against the extremes. The true oddity is how Trump and Hillary got their nominations. Maybe things have changed, and ranked voting leads to perverse outcomes when tribalism ranks high. We shall see.

          1. Hillary was not an oddity. DNC ran an openly corrupt and rigged primary.

            Trump used classic divide and conquer strategy and did not need to rely on donations.

        2. Oh, and I should add that it will make districts which are already in the bag for one end of the political spectrum could become more extreme– and I use extreme in the most neutral way I can. I would prefer to not “waste my vote” on the crazy pants candidate when they probably wouldn’t win, so I vote for the safe mainstream candidate. With no votes “wasted”, I go full crazy pants as #1, and then rank order from most crazy pants to least, because isn’t this fun?!!

          1. is like the ladies down at the shop-and-save scheming with their coupons on triple-value-thursday

          2. That answer merely suggedts that you dio not know how ranked choice voting works. There are no “wasted votes” in ranked choice voting. That only happens under the old first-past-the-post system.

            Diane Raynolds (Paul.): “I should add that it will make districts which are already in the bag for one end of the political spectrum could become more extreme…”

            Why? Voters who habitually vote for a candidate under the old system will still habitually do so with their first preference in ranked choice voting.

            If a candidate is going to win on that 1st preference/choice (necause their number exceeds the needed majority) then the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th choices will never be counted.

          3. But your crazy candidate is still most likely to be eliminated after first round, meaning your vote will count towards the more moderate second choice. I don’t see where it encourages more extremism.

      2. Diane Reynolds (Paul.) “My argument has been that it will make political districts which lean a particular direction, lean harder in that direction.”

        That’s not the way it works in Australia and Australia has been using ranked choice voting for a hundred years.

    2. Last week, the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted 25 to 3 to advance a $78 billion surface transportation bill that gives the government-owned passenger rail service $19 billion over five years, for an average of $3.8 billion per year. more detail……….VISIT HERE.

  2. Voter suppression has been clearly defined in the 21st century: you lost, especially if you are Black and always if you are a Democrat.

  3. Should be very interesting to see how the Latino vote goes.

  4. “Democrats have 13 choices in the mayoral primary. They get to rank their top five.”

    It’s like they’re begging for voter fraud.

    It’s like going on vacation for weeks, not getting anyone to mow the lawn or pick up the mail, leaving the doors unlocked, opening the front door, putting a cold keg in the entryway with stacks of plastic cups, and planting a sign in the front yard that reads, “Away on vacation. Help yourself to whatever you want!”

    Those people want to be robbed.

  5. a form of “voter suppression,” the idea being that ranked choice voting is somehow a mechanism for deemphasizing the power of black voters.

    Also a form of “systemic racism”, the idea being that ranked choice voting is somehow a mechanism too complicated for black voters to cope with.

    However, since

    “Ranked Choice Voting will prevent a run-off election, which would see significant drop off, especially in communities of color”,

    apparently any form of voting is systemic racism.

    1. They don’t need to vote – their white caretakers in government will handle that for them.

  6. Ranked choice should include “None of the above are acceptable” as a binding option. If NOTA wins, none of the other candidates are eligible for the new election.

  7. I am eagerly awaiting the outcome of this election. If this article is correct in what it says, ranked choice voting would be a good way to weed out the lesser candidates, and our choices would count a lot more.

    1. “Lesser” according to whom?

  8. If Andrew Yang somehow actually does win, I’m genuinely curious as to whether he turns out to be the reasonably moderate, pro-American, pro-free markets and capitalism common sense guy he usually loves to portray himself as, or if this is all just a big act and the instant he gets in there he instantly pulls a Joe Biden and goes full-fledged Warren/Sanders/AOC/Block Yommoma far left.

    I’m almost sort of curious to find out, but there’s something about the guy that totally gives me the “Music Man” type traveling con artist vibe.

    1. reasonably moderate, pro-American, pro-free markets and capitalism common sense guy

      A signature policy of his presidential campaign was to give everyone in the county a thousand bucks a month.

      How anyone could take that as reasonably moderate, pro-American, pro-free market and capitalism is beyond me.

      He’s AOC-lite.

      Sidenote: I don’t like the bitch and would love to see her unseated but she needs to ditch the rest of ‘The Squad’. They’re just a bunch of toxic anti-semites. Omar constantly talks like she wants to turn the US into Somalia.

    2. So the opposite of “pro-American” is Joe Biden? Puhleeze.

      I’ve been a card-carrying Libertarian since I fell for Ed Clark in 1980, have never voted for a Republicrat or a Demopublican for President, and even I think that line of yours is ridiculous.

  9. Democrats have 13 choices in the mayoral primary

    You know, they say 13 choices, but looking at this quick synopsis of the candidates

    There’s one choice that looks good and about three other maybe’s.

    Non-profit ‘founders’ (gag), current heads of several of the city’s departments (pass), a ‘non-binary’ rapper – ok, let’s see what . . . oh $2000 universal basic income (pass)

    The two Republicans are more attractive than all the D’s except the former cop.

  10. “third choice voting”…

    I understand the appeal but the mechanics are based on the idea that the 2nd, 3rd or 4th choices are just as good as the first. It undermines the ideas driving the elections and replaces the psychology and political risk of run off elections with a ‘simple option’ that doesn’t really account for how people may actually vote given the choice between two specific candidate.

    Besides, most governments have enough trouble counting and certifying votes for standard elections.

  11. Has nobody in this thread studied election methods? Choose-only-one is literally the worst standard method available. By only letting you say which one of all the candidates you will choose, anyone who might support a third party or independent candidate is pressured to support the major party candidate they most closely align with to avoid the chance that the major party candidate they most disagree with winning. This creates pressure for a two-party system, which is why that’s what America has in most places.

    Our voting system offers little real competition. Because the cost of voting third party or independent is so high (either you’re a leftist risking splitting the left vote, or a rightist risking splitting the right vote), competition is stifled.

    Ranked choice voting, and its better alternative, approval voting ( promote competition by reducing the cost of supporting third party and independent candidates. If a righty ranks the Libertarian Party candidate first, it’s not a very high risk to them; if the Democrat gets 50% or more, the Republican wasn’t going to win anyway. But if the Democrat gets 40% and the Republican gets 35%, perhaps the Libertarian will get eliminated first and their supporters will get their second choice instead, likely a Republican.

    Approval voting – where you can vote for any number of the candidates – is even better and simpler. By allowing voters to show their support for all the candidates they like, it encourages consensus candidates to win. For example, in 2016 Bernie could have run third party against Trump and Clinton. He would have large support from Clinton voters and decent support from Trump voters, and probably would have beat both.

  12. “Ranked Choice” is misleading because it is vague, and Reason hands a victory to the progressives by ignorantly accepting their wording without savaging them for their speciousness.
    There are several voting methods that allow voters to rank their choices, but this NYC thing is the absolute worst: Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).

    It’s the worst because it unfairly gives extra weight to extreme choices while almost completely ignoring the distinction between last and next-to-last. Thus it may even aggravate the polarization created by our current system (the candidate with the most 1st-place votes can easily be the candidate with the most last-place votes).

    The *good* ranked-choice system is Instant Round-Robin, also known as Condorcet. The next best is Approval Voting.

    An improvement on NYC’s “Ranked Choice” instant runoff would be: Instead of dropping the candidate with fewest 1st-place votes, drop the candidate with the *most last-place votes*. If you run that idea past the RCV champions, you’ll quickly discover just how much (how little) they care about solving polarization.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.