New York City residents will be able to vote on Nov. 5 whether or not to implement a ranked-choice voting system for local primaries and certain special elections. Under this system, voters rank their preferred candidates at the ballot. If no candidate gains a majority vote, the worst-performing candidate is eliminated and the votes are reallocated according to a voter’s ranking. This process would continue until a candidate gains the majority. The benefits of this new system would be enormous, as it would help voters make an easier choice at the ballot while making sure candidates cater to all areas of the community.
In the past, New York has had extremely low voter turnout. In the 2009 city-wide Democratic primary for Public Advocate and Comptroller, two candidates won with less than 2% of the population voting, and multiple districts did not record any votes. In the 2014 state-wide Democratic primary for Governor and Attorney General, just over a quarter of registered Democrats participated. Clearly, the current electoral system does not produce acceptable turnout.
Ranked-choice voting could help with this problem. In San Francisco — one major city that has implemented RCV — voter turnout has gone up considerably. In the 2015 municipal election, San Francisco had a high voter turnout with 45% — higher than in both 2011 (42%) and 2007 (36%). Considering New York’s abysmal voting record, any measure that could even marginally increase turnout should be considered. Ranked-choice voting is one such measure.
With the ability to rank multiple candidates, voters have the option of supporting individuals who wouldn’t usually be able to win in the current system. With this, voters can cast their ballots without concern for whether their vote was a waste. By including nuance in political perspective, New York City voters can have a system that is focused on the candidate, rather than the party.
Ranked-choice voting forces candidates to use less negative campaigning as well, in order to gain partial support from other candidates’ bases. As a result, campaigns are more inclusive and become less toxic. This creates a political environment conducive for runs by women and minorities. A report by FairVote, a nonpartisan organization focused on electoral reform, showed that women and people of color in the California Bay Area ran and won office more often with RCV than in the previous system. Some speculate this is because ranked-choice voting decreases the amount of mudslinging in campaigns, as candidates seek to have a message that appeals positively to all voters across the political spectrum. This decrease in negative campaigning creates a more diverse voter base and an environment conducive to minority and women candidates. In a ranked-choice system, New York City voters are not only catered to more but can also have a governing body that better represents them.
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