People cast their vote for the 2020 U.S Presidential Election at a polling site in Manhattan on November 3, 2020 in New York City. – New York, NY (Shutterstock)
By Victoria Falk, Special to CAW
The June 2021 primary elections will be the first time New Yorkers will experience ranked-choice voting. New York is joining other less populated states, such as Vermont, Maine, and Alaska, which have already begun utilizing the ranked choice voting system in their elections. “Ranked-choice voting was passed in 2019, by the will of the voters,” stated Rebecca C. Lewis during a public forum held on February 25, 2021, on ranked-choice voting. On Election Day, November 5, 2019, question one on the New York City Ballot pertained to rank-choice voting. A large majority of voters supported the implementation of the ranked choice voting system.
According to the online encyclopedia, Ballotpedia.org, 73.61% of voters said “Yes” in favor of ranked-choice voting, while 26.39% of the voters responded “No.” They include New York Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, amongst those who favor ranked-choice voting. “This has the opportunity to strengthen the people’s vote, getting more people to come out, saving money, ending negative campaigns, it seems like a win-win to me,” stated Williams, according to Ballotpedia. The Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus of the New York City Council is reportedly opposed to rank-choice voting.
Despite most voters in favor of ranked-choice voting, the world has changed in various ways since the elections in 2019. Since that time, as we face a global pandemic that has sparked a health and economic crisis, limited attention has been given to ranked-choice voting. The upcoming primary elections set for June 22, 2021, are of high priority for many New Yorkers looking for candidates with strong leadership ability to help the city rebuild. Thus, it is necessary to aid the public by taking deliberate action to ensure that people are informed regarding the new voting system that will be implemented as New Yorkers select the next Mayor of New York City. Community-based organizations, ethnic media groups, churches, and others, are doing what they can to educate the public about the ranked-choice voting system to aid in the upcoming elections. This public education includes preventing pitfalls and supporting positive outcomes for New York City voters.
City & State New York held a 5-part online series to educate New Yorkers on the ranked-choice voting system. These public forums included guests such as community leaders, community media, New York politicians, and contenders for New York City Mayor’s race to discuss ranked-choice voting. New York’s Path to Ranked – Choice Voting: Manhattan Forum, City and State public forum, was held on February 25, 2021. During that public forum, some of the contributors to the discussion about ranked-choice voting included: Political Consultant Sean Dugar, New York State Assemblywoman Carmen de la Rosa, LGBT Activist, Allen Roskoff, former President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Hazel Dukes, New York State Senator, Brian Benjamin, and Rebecca C. Lewis, of City and State, who moderated the conversation. Despite the efforts made during the public forum to explain ranked-choice voting to New Yorkers, some of the participants in the public forum had their questions, controversy, and confusion about ranked-choice voting that was revealed during the discussion.
How do you educate voters on a new system of voting during a global pandemic? During the public forum on ranked-choice voting held on February 25, 2021, Political Consultant Sean Dugar stated, “We need to do training in senior citizens’ homes to make sure individuals are included.” Carmen de la Rosa, who is running for City Council District, added, “Ethnic media needs to be better utilized.” She addressed concerns that people who do not speak English may not be getting adequate information about the new voting system. However, legendary LGBT Activist Allen Roskoff shared his concerns during the public forum on ranked-choice voting. “There will be a lot of people out there who are not attached to social media, who are elderly and homebound. Efforts to educate the public are limited due to the pandemic, language barriers, and people being homebound,” stated Roskoff. “This is an experiment…and we need to make sure this is helping disenfranchised people. Even with the best education, we still won’t be able to reach everyone,” added Roskoff.
Who is responsible for educating the community on ranked choice voting? During the public forum on ranked-choice voting, New York State Senator Brian Benjamin stated, “It’s not the candidates’ responsibility to teach voters about ranked-choice voting.” Although it may or may not be the candidates’ responsibility, there seem to be apparent benefits for those candidates who choose to speak to voters about the ranked choice voting system. Carmen de la Rosa discussed how speaking to public members and answering their questions has been helping her connect with voters. Political Consultant, Sean Dugar, had this to say, “Everyone is equally responsible for educating voters on ranked-choice voting: including community organizations, long-established organizations that have wide and deep roots. It benefits candidates to educate voters on ranked-choice voting. Voters tend to favor the candidate who explained it to them.”
While some community leaders are stepping up to help explain ranked choice voting to New Yorkers, some critics want to do away with this new system altogether or postpone implementing a future election. Hazel Dukes, former President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had strong feelings regarding the ranked choice voting system. “People don’t want to hear about ranked-choice voting. People are concerned about stimulus checks and vaccinations. How can I get a vaccine? When can I send my children back to school? It’s too late to be having this conversation about ranked-choice voting,” stated Hazel Dukes during the February 25, 2021, public forum on ranked-choice voting presented by City & State New York. Like some other critics of ranked-choice voting, Dukes expressed concern that there has not been adequate time for New Yorkers to understand ranked-choice voting.
Rank Choice Voting is the Law
However, political consultant and strategist Brian Figeroux, Esq. of IQ Inc Consulting, stated, “You can’t just scrap a law. Where were these community leaders and their organizations before ranked-choice voting became a law? If they opposed ranked-choice voting, they should have been fighting then. Now that ranked-choice voting is here, we must find community leaders who are knowledgeable about the system to educate our community.” “It is the law,” stated Bertha Lewis, community leader and President of The Black Institute, regarding ranked-choice voting, during an exclusive interview with People, Power, and Politics Radio Show. Ms. Lewis spoke enthusiastically about ranked-choice voting as she explained, “Ranked-choice voting empowers the voter. You are not forced to select only one candidate when there may be two or more candidates you like. Ranked-choice voting allows you to rank your choices in order of who you like most. But if you want to vote for only one candidate, you can do that too, and your vote will still count.”
Despite the varying opinions about ranked-choice voting, the ranked-choice voting system will indeed be implemented for the first time in New York during the June 22, 2021, primary elections. Thus, here are the top 10 things New Yorkers need to know about ranked-choice voting, as explained in the online encyclopedia, Ballotpedia.org, and by Ms. Bertha Lewis, during the exclusive interview with People, Power, and Politics Radio Show.
- Ranked-choice voting is the law.
- Unlike previous elections in New York, where voters selected only one candidate for office, voters can rank-up to 5 candidates for a given office by preference on their ballot.
- If, for whatever reason, voters decide to select only one candidate for a given office, then they can choose just one candidate, and their ballot will still count.
- Ranked-choice voting will only apply to primary and special elections in New York City.
- It will take about 2 ½ weeks after votes are in to get the results.
- The first candidate who has the majority of first-preference votes is declared the winner.
- The majority of votes is considered 50% plus 1.
- If no candidate wins an outright majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated.
- The process of elimination continues until there are two candidates left.
- When there are only two candidates left, the candidate with the majority of the votes will be declared the winner.
The full interview with Ms. Bertha Lewis on Ranked Choice Voting can be found at www.pppradio.nyc