Tuesday, April 23, 2019

NYC Could Have RCV in 2020

Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) just took a big step forward to becoming the Next Major Voting and Election Reform in New York City.

The 2019 New York City council Charter Revision Commission just released its Preliminary recommendations and RCV was one of them.

The Staff for the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, the Commission, makes recommendations to the Commission concerning ideas and proposals that should be further explored and about which additional public feedback should be sought. While these recommendations are intended to inform the Commission, it is important to remember that these recommendations do not in any way bind the Commission nor do they reflect the official position of the Commission or any individual commissioner. The final decision as to whether a particular proposal or idea ultimately proceeds to the November election is a decision that rests with the Commission alone, and staff anticipates that the Commission will make these decisions in June and July after having had a chance to receive and review additional public feedback.

Ranked Choice Voting

New York City utilizes Two Election systems: a “Plurality” system for most Municipal Elections and a Hybrid Plurality/Run-Off system only for the Primary Elections for the Three Citywide Offices: Mayor, Comptroller, and Public Advocate. General and Special Elections for All City Offices, and the Primary Elections for Non-Citywide Offices, use a Plurality system, also known as “First-Past-the-Post,” meaning that the Candidate who obtains the Highest Number of Votes Wins the Election, regardless of the Total Percentage of Votes obtained by the Winning Candidate.

The Plurality system frequently results in a candidate Winning with a relatively Small Percentage of the Vote. For example, if Ten Candidates are running in an Election, and Nine of these Candidates each get 9% of the Votes cast, but the Tenth Candidate receives the remaining 19% of the Votes, then that Candidate Wins the Election even though 81% of the Voters preferred someone else. Ten Candidates may seem like a lot, but consider that the recent Special Election for Public Advocate had 17 Candidates running. Generally, these 6 Multi-Candidate Races will be less likely in General Elections because the preceding Primary Elections considerably Winnow the Field of viable Candidates.

To combat Issues associated with the Winner receiving a Relatively Small Percentage of the Vote, in Primary Elections for the Three Citywide Offices a Run-Off Primary is Triggered if No Candidate receives 40% or more of the Votes Cast. Only the Two Candidates receiving the Highest Number of Votes participate in a Second Election. However, while this resolves the 7 Plurality Winner Issue described above, Run-Off Elections introduce Two additional Problems of their own:

First, Voter Participation tends to be considerably Lower in a Run-Off than in the Election that preceded it. For example, in Run-Off Elections over the past 10 years, the Drop in Turnout has ranged from 35% to 61%.

Second, Run-Off Elections Cost Money. The 2013 Democratic Primary Run-Off for Public Advocate cost approximately $10.4 Million for Election Administration and approximately $800,000 for Public Funds Payments, over $11 Million Total. Adjusted for Inflation, the Cost of such a Run-Off today would be about $13 Million, which is almost Four times the Public Advocate’s Current Annual Budget.

One way to fix the Issues with Plurality Voting is to Replace it with “Ranked-Choice Voting” (RCV), which is also called “Instant Run-Off Voting” (IRV). With RCV, Voters Rank Candidates in order of Preference. If a Candidate is Ranked First by a Majority of Voters, then they Wins the Election. If No Candidate is Ranked First by a Majority of Voters, a common RCV Vote Counting Process consists of: (1) Removing the Candidate who was Ranked First on the Fewest Ballots, (2) Transferring each Vote Cast for that Candidate to the Next Ranked Candidate on that Voter’s Ballot, if there is one, and (3) Repeating this Process until a Single Candidate has a Majority of the Remaining Votes, whereupon that Candidate Wins the Election. RCV would Eliminate the need for Citywide Primary Runoff Elections because a Run-Off is Simulated as Candidates are successively Eliminated until the Final Round.


Staff Recommends that the Commission further Consider and Solicit Feedback concerning establishing RCV in New York City Municipal Elections. Specifically, the Commission should consider:

(a) Which Types of Elections should be Subject to RCV (i.e., Primary Elections, Special Elections, and/or General Elections).

(b) Which Offices should be Subject to RCV.

(c) When Implementation should Begin, including whether there should be any Phase-In Period.

(d) Whether to Utilize a Hybrid RCV/Run-Off system under which, for example, if No Candidate Receives more than 40% of the Total Ballots cast in the Final Tabulation round, the Race proceeds to a Traditional Run-Off.

(e) How many Candidates a Voter may Rank on the Ballot.

(f) What Type of Tabulation Method and Software should be used.

CLICK HERE to read the 80 page (pdf) Report.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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